The West Virginia Mountaineers are set to play the most challenging back to back games of the season, playing against the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday in Cleveland and then the #5 ranked Kansas Jayhawks at the (un)friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.
Winning either game would be a major accomplishment for a West Virginia team that finished 15-21 last year, but winning both would be monumental. According to Head Coach Bob Huggins, “These next two games are resume-builders, whether you are known or unknown, no matter who you are or what people think of you. You beat the #2 and #5 team in the country, you go beat Ohio State and Kansas back to back, people are going to start talking about you.”
Standing in the way of the Mountaineers is the Buckeyes’ Kaleb Wesson, a 6’9 270 pound junior forward, who is averaging 13.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Huggins’ thinks his interior players are ready for him, saying, “Fortunately we have a couple of 270 pounders ourselves. He’s not going to bully us. He’s a very skilled guy. Not only can he step out and shoot it, but he also steps out and passes it. Wesson does a really good job of passing the ball.”
If the Mountaineers can get past the Buckeyes in Cleveland, they will face Kansas and another 270 pound big man, Udoka Azubuike, who averages 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, while shooting an unreal 80.5% rebounds per game. Azubuike has managed to use his size and bulk to dominate smaller teams so far this season. That will not happen against West Virginia’s dynamic duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, as well as key reserves Gabe Osabuohien and Logan Routt.
Wesson and Azubuike are likely the two best interior players that the Mountaineers will play this season and how they perform against them will be very telling. On paper, this West Virginia team is capable of upsetting both Ohio State and Kansas because of their incredible size and depth. Like Huggins, I don’t believe either Wesson or Azubuike will be able to bully West Virginia’s interior players and the Mountaineers could leave Cleveland and Lawrence with two massive early season victories.