Tonight, the West Virginia Mountaineers will complete the 2016-17 regular season of basketball and head into the Big XII Conference Tournament with the possibility of bringing the tournament trophy to Morgantown.
Regardless of the outcome of the Iowa State game (it’s halftime as I’m writing this), our understanding of Mountaineer Basketball is a lot greater today than it was back in November, here are five things we now know:
1.) The Mountaineers can beat any team in the nation…
On December 3, 2016, the boys from Morgantown went to Edgar Allen Poe’s alma mater for a roundball showdown against sixth-ranked University of Virginia, handing the Cavaliers their first home loss since January 2015 — and were the first nonconference foe to beat UVA at home since 2013.
Later in the season, these wins were followed by victories against the #1 and #2 teams in the nation.
When it comes to taking on a top ranked team, the gritty Mountaineers are tough as nails and not intimidated by anyone.
2.) The Mountaineers can lose to any team in the nation…
It was fun to write the first point, this one, not so much!
You can’t win them all, but you’d hope that a team capable of toppling #1 and #2 in the same week would be at least be able to handle a squad that ended the regular season with a record of 10-19… here’s looking at you Boomer Sooner.
In five of the Mountaineers’ seven losses, WVU averaged losing by only 3.4 points, but as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but certainly not in the NCAA Tournament — there a one point loss is just as season-ending as a 20 point loss.
As we head into March Madness, the Mountaineers need to be careful not to forget how the first round of last year’s tournament against that team from the Southland Conference went.
3.) Press Virginia can dish it, but they can’t handle it…
The Mountaineers owe their success in large part to being the schoolyard bully – they intimidate their opponents, relentlessly attacking them with a level of pressure that is simply unkind and the results are most often that their victims look like fools; however, as is the case with bullies, when someone stands up to them, they often buckle.
A few weeks ago, WVU was leading #3 Kansas 64-51, on the road, with 2 minutes and 45 seconds left in the game. While the TV showed heartbroken Jayhawks fans leaving the stadium, what they didn’t show was Kansas’ coach ordering his team to press Press Virginia.
In the final 2 minutes 45 seconds, Kansas went on on a 20-7 scoring run that sent the game into overtime and offered the world a glimpse of the Mountaineers in meltdown mode…. a second half act we would again see repeated against Baylor.
The Mountaineers are impressive this season, but they have got to learn how to close the deal. In 7 of their last 8 losses, West Virginia was leading at the end of the first half… This inability to finish has got to be worrying fans in Morgantown, and if it isn’t, it should be.
4.) Bob Huggins’ health is concerning…
Yes, I know that the official word is that Huggins’ defibrillator gave him a “bit of a jolt” during the Texas game, but let’s not kid ourselves — when an overweight 63-year-old man who has a history of heart problems, including a major heart attack, falls to the floor grabbing his chest, feeling light-headed, there’s reason to be concerned.
Huggins is without a doubt, the most popular man in the Mountain State these days and why not, he’s home grown, a great coach, and if having a coach who refuses to wear a suit isn’t a source of Mountaineer pride, I don’t know what is.
We all love Huggy Bear and want to see him coaching for years to come… but what we saw this past month was scary.
5.) March Madness is going to be fun…
Last year’s NCAA Tournament was a bigger let down than the time GMC shot a commercial at the New River Gorge Bridge, but based upon what we’ve seen over the past five months, ‘Eers fans finally have something to be optimistic about.
This year, putting WVU going all the way on your annual bracket isn’t nearly as big of a longshot as it has been in previous seasons. Huggy Bear has made it to the tournament 22 times and come home empty-handed the same amount of times… 23 is a magic number in basketball and worked well for the likes Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Esa Ahmad… maybe Hugs will wear 23 well too.
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