Saturday started out very positive for the West Virginia men’s basketball team.
That positivity ended once the Mountaineers started actually playing basketball.
The Mountaineers were slotted as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s early reveal. A two seed in the early reveal was a great sign for WVU, as it showed that the committee had been suitably impressed with the Mountaineers performance through Saturday morning.
It’s hard to think that was still the case by Saturday evening.
West Virginia played at Oklahoma on Saturday. And as been the case all season, the WVU team that played in Norman, Okla., resembled nothing like the version that plays in the Coliseum in Morgantown.
The Sooners throttled a disheveled Mountaineers team, 69-59. Oklahoma (14-8, 5-5 Big 12) is an NCAA Tournament bubble team hoping to scrape together enough February victories to ensure its Big Dance card is punched.
West Virginia (18-5, 6-4) is a No. 2 seed in the tournament early reveal and should be using the remaining schedule to solidify its position as one of the best teams in the country.
At home, that’s exactly what the Mountaineers are. But this was the road. And on the road, they are not.
On Saturday, the traveling Mountaineers once again shot as if the basket was capped. WVU hit an abysmal 24 of 76 field goals in the loss. The Mountaineers inside duo of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe were particularly cold. Tshiebwe had 12 points but hit only five of his 16 shots. Culver was worse, finishing 2-for-10 from the field. Both also had foul trouble with Tshiebwe tallying four personal fouls and Culver three.
The Sooners shot 21 free throws compared to just eight for the Mountaineers. Insert your conspiracy theory here if you’d like. But much of that differential resulted from an energized Sooners squad and a lethargic Mountaineers one.
Once is an aberration. Twice is a trend. Three or more is a fact. That’s where these Mountaineers are. The fact is they can’t play on the road. WVU is 3-5 on the opposing team’s campus. While it didn’t appear to hurt WVU in Saturday’s early reveal, it probably will when the actual selections are made.
Oklahoma offered an excellent opportunity for a road victory over a solid – if far from spectacular – team. But as they have all season, the Mountaineers squandered that opportunity.
There is but one chance left for West Virginia to notch a resume-building road win. That is Feb. 15 when the Mountaineers travel to Waco, Texas, to face No. 1 ranked Baylor. After Saturday – and all season – does any Mountaineers fan like their chances?
WVU also has road dates remaining against Big 12 also-rans TCU, Texas and Iowa State. Winning those games isn’t going to wow the committee. But the way WVU has played on the road this season, thinking the Mountaineers can win any road game – let alone all three – doesn’t square with the evidence at hand.
The positivity from early in the day Saturday makes the team’s crash Saturday afternoon even more dispiriting. Advancing in the NCAA Tournament often is as dependent on the path you face as how a team plays.
The reveal showed the committee is ready to give the Mountaineers a winnable path towards a deep tournament run.
It’s unfortunate they don’t appear ready to take it.