WVU v. Kansas: Who’s sitting pretty?

March 3, 2015 by Mike Casazza

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You are looking live inside Allen Fieldhouse, where tonight No. 9 Kansas seeks an outright Big 12 title at he end of what’s being touted as one of the very best Big 12 seasons. I haven’t been around long enough to be an aficionado on this, but I do note when others who have been around speak with such certainty.

Without getting too deep into the scene here — been here, done that — it’s the best place to watch a game this side of the Petersen Events Center. What? I will not relent on that point. But this place is unique and the crowd is here early and is active throughout. Christian Garrett came out onto the floor around 6:15 local time. He got a standing ovation.

Who is Christian Garrett?

I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter what his name is, but an anonymous player who’s been on the floor as many games (two) and minutes (five) as the more recognized Tyler Self got a warm, warm welcome, and he was made to beam as he put up his first few shots.

Turns out Garrett is the team’s lone senior, and the only reason there’s a Senior Night ceremony this evening. As mentioned before, Kansas as won a stupid 30 straight senior games and its final regular-season home game in 31 straight seasons (there were not seniors on the 2006-07 team). Do the streaks continue tonight against No. 20 West Virginia?

Perhaps this helps you arrive at an answer. Read the rest of this entry »

We can dream, can’t we?

March 3, 2015 by Mike Casazza

A lot happened last night. Like, a lot. It’s one of those Saturday morning conversations at the Boreman Bistro that would bridge breakfast and lunch.

For starters, Kansas won the Big 12 again. Kansas did not play, as you know, for the Jayhawks have a date this evening with WVU. But Oklahoma’s loss at Iowa State meant nobody will get above Kansas. So Bill Self gets a share of the title, and he’s done no worse than that for 11 years running.

(Aside: What the heck happened in that 2003-04 season? Oklahoma State happened. Self was 12-4 in his first season, and briefly ranked No. 1 early in the schedule, with a roster featuring Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford, David Padgett and J.R. Giddens. But Eddie Sutton was 14-2 in his 14th year with the Cowboys. Kansas made the Elite Eight, but Oklahoma State went to the Final Four with Tony Allen, Ivan McFarlin, Joey and Steven Graham and John Lucas, who had just transferred in and was eligible to play following the Dave Bliss nightmare at Baylor. Oddly enough, Kansas and Oklahoma State had their seasons ended by Georgia Tech, which lost in the title game to Connecticut. Years later at the 2010 Final Four, a Division I coach would tell me and Colin Dunlap that Paul Hewitt was the worst coach to make it to a Final Four.)

Yet to say Oklahoma lost is so, so, soooooo misleading. Oklahoma looked like the streak-ending conference champion for 25 minutes. The Sooners were bossing Iowa State around, at Hilton, and you had a feeling a home game Saturday with everything on the like against Kansas was like a formality.

Nope. Nope. Not even close.

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Staten, Browne day to day, or so they say

March 2, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Two things to discuss before I fly to Kansas City.

1) Bob Huggins was asked today about the upcoming Big 12 tournament and not just how it compared to some of those behemoth Big East tournaments, but whether it would be better. The idea bothers me more than a little, but Huggins answered, perhaps soldierly, but also thoughtfully.

“The hard thing about this league is there aren’t any bad teams. Every one’s good, every one’s extremely well-coached and well-prepared. This is probably as open a tournament as I’ve ever been involved with.”

Bless you, Robert Huggins.

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Gangsta

March 2, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Remember this guy? Well, down a bunch in the final home game of the season, and no doubt staring at the likelihood of another postgame press conference, Mike Carey and West Virginia rallied Sunday to beat Texas.

That’s 2-1 since The Press Conference, with a puzzling and possibly problematic loss at TCU, and the Mountaineers finish on the road Tuesday against meh Kansas State. They were on the bubble this time last week and are a 1-1 week means they’re still right there, so a win Tuesday and then some more at the conference tournament in Dallas over the weekend would be useful.

And lest we forget…

Good news

March 1, 2015 by Mike Casazza

I got a new laptop! In Waco! And I can bring you the following, which for you is a much better reason to celebrate …

I was a hundred feet away when it happened, and I haven’t seen a replay which is purportedly “gross,” but there is relief in the WVU hotel today that Gary Browne didn’t break his left ankle early in Saturday’s loss. A sprain can still be a major set back, and a high ankle sprain is even worse, bit a break would be a season-ender for Browne and a season-crimper for the Mountaineers.

We’re told Juwan Staten is day-to-day, but then again, we were told Friday that Juwan Staten was supposed to be fine Saturday even though his teammates knew he was out before they left Morgantown Friday afternoon. Let’s agree to call Browne doubtful for Tuesday, and let’s consider this, too: WVU’s probably not going to win the Big 12 championship now (the Mountaineers have to win out, Kansas has to lose out and Oklahoma has to lose to Iowa State and beat Kansas) and there’s seriously no way they fall out of the top five in the standings. They’re most likely looking at the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 seeds here, and the 4 and 5 play one another in their first game in the conference tournament.

So, how much thought do you give to resting Staten and/or Browne? If you don’t have a choice with Browne, which seems to be the case for Tuesday, at least, does that affect your call on Staten?

I ask because they’re vital. You saw that Saturday, which, no lie, was the first time all season WVU practiced or played without both. Naturally, it showed.

“Gary went down and we started throwing the ball to them,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We had nine turnovers in the first half, and most of them were live-ball turnovers that killed us. And you had guys out there who hadn’t been out there by themselves before. It was hard to make adjustments. “But that being said, we had guys who are veterans — I guess veteran guys for us are sophomores — who didn’t really do what we needed to do. They were just kind of running around. We didn’t do a very good job overall.”

The Mountaineers trailed by 19 points in the first half and 20 points in the second half after a surge to get within nine points. Their chances of winning the Big 12 championship took a hit, as well, when first-place Kansas survived at home against Texas. The eighth-ranked Jayhawks are a game ahead of Oklahoma and two games ahead of WVU and Iowa State, who both lost Saturday, and now Baylor.

The Mountaineers were rudderless and they cannot afford to be like that this month, and that includes these final two regular-season games and then the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. How important is Kansas-Oklahoma State? How valuable is seeding, not only for Kansas City, but for the Field of 68? How much do you weigh one or both of those games against the postseason?

Decision time for Huggins?

WVU v. Baylor: Who can handle these truths?

February 28, 2015 by Mike Casazza

We’re live at the Ferrell Center, where Baylor’s path to history just got a little easier. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten will not play today. He injured his left knee when he got clipped in the middle of the second half of Tuesday’s Texas game, didn’t practice Thursday and presumably Friday and won’t go against the Bears.

Baylor is on a roll with three straight wins, including one of the Big 12 season’s best Wednesday at Iowa State to end the Cyclones’ 21-game winning streak at the Hilton Coliseum. A win today also gives the program back-to-back victories against ranked teams for the first time ever. That’s lunacy. Scott Drew’s made two Elite Eights and a Sweet Sixteen (I guess that’s three Sweet Sixteens) and played for the Big 12 title last year and hasn’t beaten ranked teams in succession.

So that’s on the line today and, by the way, the Bears are only two games out of the Big 12 championship race. They’ll need some help to win it, but winning out and getting their claws on a share of the title isn’t impossible.

The Mountaineers came here with control of their championship vision, and that hasn’t change even if it’s now out of Staten’s hands. Winning out guarantees them no worse than a share of the title. A loss today makes it unlikely and makes Tuesday’s game at No. 8 Kansas a must-win, so this isn’t a do-or-die occasion if hardware is the goal, which it is. This is nevertheless significant because Tuesday could be … wait for it … The Biggest Regular-Season Game in the Bob Huggins Era.

How does WVU get there? Surviving TCU without Staten is one thing, and Staten’s long-term health is quite another because of the quick turnarounds in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Jevon Carter will start for Staten, and Tarik Phillip has to be ready.

The onus, though, seems to be on Jon Holton, and there’s a certain symmetry with today’s game. It was the first Baylor game, a brutal 18-point loss that, if we’re being honest, wasn’t that close, when he shot and missed a 3-pointer, got pulled and was informed along the way to his seat that he would not shoot another 3 in a game until he’d figured out his 8 for 46 conundrum in the gym.

He didn’t take a 3 for three games, tried and missed one against Oklahoma State and then went 2 for 2 against Texas. He’s been better in this three-game winning streak (17 points, 19 rebounds, six assists and just one turnover) and he’s played 22, 11 (?) and 26 minutes.

Minutes matter. When Holton isn’t in foul trouble and is effective, he plays more. When he plays more, WVU plays its game with greater ease. In WVU’s losses, he’s shooting 28.1 percent and is 1 for 10 from 3-point range and he’s totaled 25 points (4.2 ppg). In WVU’s wins, he’s shooting 51.7 percent and is 9 for 39 from 3-point range and has totaled 196 points (8.9 ppg).

That seems logical, right? Here’s where the light bulb goes off, I think. In losses, he averages 5.7 rebounds. In wins, he averaged 5.9 rebounds. In losses he averaged 1.2 steals, in wins he averages 1.7 steals. Those are fairly close.

But in losses, he plays 17.8 minutes. In wins, he plays 20.8 minutes. Three minutes is a bunch of possessions with the way WVU plays and a bunch of missed opportunities for Holton to impact a game.

Project his averages out to 40 minutes and it’s 12.8 rebounds in losses and 11.3 in wins and 3.7 steals in wins and 2.7 steals in losses … which is to say he’s always been an active player. Active players need to be active, and that’s especially true for Holton. He’s not a great or even good shooter, but he’s so energetic and so effective as a rebounder and defender, when he can stay tucked in, that WVU really loses something when he can’t play.

His offensive wanderings cut into his playing time, but it forced him to re-evaluate his game and focus on the things that make him better so he could rationalize his presence on the floor.

But here’s the truest truth about Holton: He was tired of having basketball taken away from him. If this is a return to form, or perhaps more accurately the display of new form, it’s a dynamite response to the latest dilemma.

“I’m hungry, man,” he said. “I wanted to play last year. I was ready to play last year. Last year was hard, to tell the truth. I’ve been ready since I got to Morgantown and I haven’t been able to play to my potential. But I play hard. I hustle. That’s all I can say.

“All Coach Huggins really wants me to do is rebound and hustle and play hard and bring energy, and the rest of my game will come. I’m a capable shooter. I can finish. The key is playing hard.”

Holton played 40 minutes and scored 15 points in an overtime win against TCU on Jan. 24. He would go scoreless three times, play fewer than 10 minutes twice and foul out once before reappearing against Texas. He worked for shots underneath the basket and his three baskets inside the 3-point line were a dunk, a hook shot and a put back, that being a critical score after one of his four offensive rebounds.

He moved against the zone defense, he defended the tallest Longhorns in the post and earned 28 minutes on the floor, his second-best total in conference play. The 3s were merely bonuses.

“That’s not what Jon is,” Huggins said. “Jon is what he was (Tuesday). He’s a guy who scores around the goal, a guy who could be an absolutely terrific offensive rebounder and, I think if he continues to work at it, a guy who should be able to bounce it at the rim.

“But if he continues to work at it and becomes a more consistent shooter from 3, that helps us spread them. It’s hard when they stand everyone in the lane and say, ‘Go ahead, we don’t care if you shoot it or not.’”

I care if you proceed …

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Speaking of assistants, or assistance …

February 27, 2015 by Mike Casazza

…and we do seem to do that quite a bit around here, what with all that turnover on the football staff and our questions now about who fills Tom Bradley’s space in the media guide, so let’s look in another corner of the athletic department.

WVU’s fundraising arm, the Mountaineer Athletic Club, lost two major gift officers last spring, right before the end of the fiscal year. The overall number for the year checked in at about $20 million, not as high as it has been before and not as high as the MAC wants it to be. This is not to say one has everything to do with the other, but rather to show that turnover matters wherever it occurs.

The MAC filled its spots in the July and hit the fiscal road running. Through the first seven months of this fiscal year, the MAC has set four single-month records and is past record-setting paces for its annual fund and overall giving.

“We lost two guys who had built strong relationships with donors in the areas they were working, and replacing that immediately is impossible,” Borman said. “We were fully staffed in August and had people back on the road building those relationships again.”

It’s much like when a football program loses an assistant coach to another school. The team has to find a new assistant who can coach the position, but also has to find a way to make sure the team keeps recruiting the area the departing coach worked.

WVU hired M.G. Bailey from George Washington and put him in charge of Washington, D.C., and the metropolitan New York area. Jacob Kirkham came to WVU from Utah and works throughout Virginia and south Florida, but he’s also spending time in places he knows in California.

Ben Murray, the associate athletic director in charge of major gifts, covers Texas. Wheeling native Kevin Miller, the assistant athletic director in charge of annual fund, came to WVU from Georgia State and handles Atlanta. Mike Gilstorf manages Phoenix and north Florida.

All five have their own regions in West Virginia.

“We really have a history in a majority of the areas that have a high concentration of alumni,” Borman said. “If the WVU Foundation or the Alumni Association suddenly realizes we’ve got a lot more donors in a certain area we haven’t been too active in, we’ll be out there trying to add new areas. Moving to the Big 12, we focused a little more on Texas and the additional opportunities to reach out to donors and give them opportunities they haven’t had before.”

Not addition by subtraction, not devastation, either

February 27, 2015 by Mike Casazza

We glossed over this Tuesday night and in the days that followed, but Tom Bradley’s the new defensive coordinator at UCLA, as announced by a press release from the Bruins athletic department … and I still find it odd there isn’t one line in there about his work at WVU. Just weird, but, hey, no big deal, and Bradley bid farewell in his own way.

Exactly who and what we thought he was before and we saw him to be during his season with the Mountaineers. Yet there’s an apprehension here and there about how this affects, even hurts WVU and Dana Holgorsen, who, of course, has lost 12 assistant coaches in four offseasons (Ready? Jeff Casteel, David Lockwood, Bill Kirelawich, Steve Dunlap, Daron Roberts, Bill Bedenbaugh, Robert Gillespie, Jake Spavital, Erik Slaughter, Keith Patterson Shannon Dawson and Tom Bradley.)

And since this is sports, people are going to work with definites and care only for winners and losers. That’s fine. But I’m having a hard time thinking of any losers here.

Y2Yay!

February 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

The WWF’s first undisputed champion, the purveyor of some of sports entertainment’s best gimmicks, Chris Jericho is also the front man for Fozzy. For those reasons, and so many others, I have no issue whatsoever with him taking aim at one of our favorite songs. (Warning: Ear muffs.)

‘Let’s get some money, let’s go home’

February 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Seeing as if I didn’t have a functioning laptop Tuesday night and couldn’t do things like share my real-time predictions about a switch to a zone or inevitable coach of the year columns — you’ll have to take my word for it! — I feel like we omitted a fun part of that experience.

The crowd was great, but also very aware of the history between these two teams. There was a Holy Crap cadence for much of the first half, as though no one could or would believe what was happening, and that paired nicely with the Aw Crap vibe present every time Texas made a basket. WVU would lead by as many as 18 points and made 10 of its first 10 shots, but the Mountaineers fell in love with the 3-point line and then missed 12 of 16 shots. The Longhorns, meanwhile, shot like 75 percent for almost 30 minutes and made a lengthy 23-6 run in which every swish or slam was followed by a pained gasp from the crowd.

It was so great, and it continued after the 1-1-3 one and a 13-2 run that included a mind bottling Jon Holton 3. Texas wasn’t done, though, and got close thanks to some more brown paper bag shots. The damage was never done, though, and the Mountaineers quietly finished 20 for 23 from the foul  line. The 87 percent is the best of the season and powered by Devin Williams (!) going 8 for 10, including 5 for 6 in the final 1:18, when he was on the floor, but also getting the ball against the pressure.