The talk yesterday, of course, was of Bob Huggins and his return to Bramlage Coliseum and Kansas State for the first time since he was the Wildcats head coach in the 2006-07 season.
“He definitely changed the mindset and the culture of Kansas State basketball and helped energize it and Coach Martin took it to another level,” Weber said. “We’re hoping to continue that.”
Lost in all of this was that Bruce Weber has, in his first season, done a masterful job working with incumbent players and has a shot late in the season to not only win the Big 12 regular season title and snap the ridiculous eight-year run by Kansas, but to also win the conference tournament and get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s a pretty good team, especially at home.
Huggins and his WVU team would understand the aptly named Octagon of Doom (!) in a 71-61 loss that was, in retrospect, kind of weird.
The game wasn’t as close as a 10-point margin, but, man, I sat there and kept thinking, “You know, they’re not playing terrible basketball.” Now, it wasn’t great. The start was just miserable and the game’s biggest deciding factor. The Mountaineers had problems and often at bad times — early turnovers, leaving a shooter wide open to help on a driving guard in the crowded paint, missing rebounds when there was no reason to miss the rebound, technical fouls, etc.
But they chipped away and wouldn’t go away. A few players tried hard and WVU ended up shooting above its season average, outrebounding KSU, forcing 18 turnovers and keeping the other team’s top two players relatively quiet (Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell combined for 13 points).
That’s where we are watching and judging these Mountaineer, though. Very simply, though, is that when they lose Deniz Kilicli for one half and Eron Harris for two halves and Jabarie Hinds is pulled at different times for effort reasons, then they have to go deeper onto a roster that isn’t fit to do what was asked Monday night.
(Aside: Juwan Staten = 21 assists, three turnovers in last 95 minutes
but also 1-for-11 shooting.)
Huggins’ sixth season at WVU is going to end with fewer than 20 wins for the second straight season and just the fifth time in 28 seasons as a Division I head coach. Barring the extremely unlikely, there will be no NCAA Tournament for the first time since John Beilein left town withthe NIT title in 2007.
And wither the NIT?
Welp, you don’t have to finish the season above .500. The NCAA did away with that years ago. The requirements aren’t specifically spelled out — whereas they are crystal clear for the WNIT — and that probably has a lot to do with ESPN’s role in the broadcast and thus the selection process.
Still, since the NCAA bought the NIT in the summer of 2005, every NIT team has been above .500. In fact, 223 of the 224 selections have been at least two games above .500. The exception was 16-15 Cal in 2008. The Bears, who started 6-0 before a notable loss, are quite the exception. They went 6-12 in the six-bid Pac-10.
WVU is 13-13 today with five games left in the regular season and then the Big 12 Tournament. That means a 4-3 finish at home against blue hot Oklahoma State, at home against Baylor, at Kansas, at Oklahoma and at home against Iowa State.
That’s the best team going, a team playing for its NCAA life, the team with the best home-court in the league, the team that’s 2-0 against WVU and the league’s most dynamic offense.
The Big 12 Tournament would then have a play-in opener against TCU or Texas Tech and then a second-day game against Kansas State, Oklahoma State or Kansas.
So squeeze four wins out of that. It probably won’t happen, but it can.
The again, WVU has a glimmer to stare at here, though that may be the shine off a guillotine.
The bottom is probably set as the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Texas has a chance to steal it. The Longhorns are 2.5 games back (with a pair of losses to WVU), but have Myck Kabongo, their best player, for the first time all season and games left against TCU and Texas Tech, as well as Baylor and Oklahoma, which are … winnable.
Still, WVU at No. 8 gets TCU or Texas Tech on the first day at the conference tourney and if nothing else, WVU has proved it’s better than both.
But WVU is 1.5 games behind Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma with games left against all three — and those three all play one another before the end of the season. WVU could actually get into the 4-5-6 range, but is that the best idea?
Seriously. Say the Mountaineers get their three wins against Baylor, Oklahoma and Iowa State — and I think that’s what you would agree are the three best chances to get wins at the end of the season. Say they finish 16-15 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12 as the No. 4, 5 or 6 seed. Awesome. Got that one-above-.500 thing done before the Big 12 Tournament.
But in the tournament, WVU goes from playing Texas Tech or TCU and getting that very valuable win to go two games above .500, and given Huggins and WVU’s appeal, probably also get the NIT bid, to having to play someone a much better opponent in the first game.
The 7 plays the 10 and the 8 plays the 9 in play-in games on the first day. The 7/10 winner plays the top seed and the 8/9 winner plays the 2 seed on the second day while the 3 plays the 6 and the 4 plays the 5.
True, it gives WVU a shorter path to winning the tournament with three games as opposed to four, but is that WVU’s reality right now? Shortening the tournament might actually shorten WVU’s season because a loss to, say, Kansas in the 6 v. 3 game could leave WVU at 16-16 and thus most likely out of the NIT and maybe paying $10,000 to get into the CBI.