Chip Shots

by Jim Buzzerd

Anyone’s game?

Seems most West Virginia University fans would be pleased with the Mountaineers’ 16-3 record to begin the 2019-2020 season. That is especially true considering the team won only 15 games a season ago. The success so far has the Mountaineers projected to attain even more lofty status as the season rolls on. Current Top 25 polls have WVU 11th in the Coaches Poll and 12th in the AP Top 25. Other predictors like ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi and analytics gurus like Kenpom paint a loftier status. Lunardi currently has WVU as a two seed if March Madness were to begin today. Kenpom agrees and has WVU sixth in his current ratings.
All of that is fine, but means very little here in the last week of January. I mean a week ago we were talking about a Big 12 loss to last place Kansas State. Of course, we were also talking about a 38-point win over Texas. WVU hasn’t been the most consistent with their efforts. That was evidenced in the only game the Mountaineers have played since the Texas blowout.
Last Saturday West Virginia beat Missouri 72-51 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in a game that showed both the good and bad WVU. West Virginia controlled the game early taking a 20-6 lead with about eight minutes left in the half. Stretches of stagnant offense has plagued the Mountaineers at times this season, and that issue was on display Saturday as the Tigers cut into the 14 point lead and trailed just 24-23 at the half.
The good WVU team showed up for the second half and led by as many as 29 points before Missouri hit some late threes to reach the final margin.
Anyway, most pundits agree that the race to the 2020 NCAA championship is as wide open as any in recent years, and WVU is right there with the rest of the field with as good a chance as any team to win it all. I had a friend who was at the Pitt game back in November text me late in that game saying this season will be coach Bob Huggins best chance to win a national title.
I didn’t disagree, although I did think there would be some growing pains, but this team could be special by March. I predicted 10 regular season losses. I don’t want to be correct on that call as that means WVU finishes 5-7 over the final 12 regular season games. I don’t see this team allowing that kind of collapse, but I only need to think back to the Kansas State game to see the possibility.
Huggins used the K-State loss as a talking point last week saying he told the team that to win a national championship they would need to win six games in a row and efforts like the one in Manhattan will not allow for that. WVU will have a two game winning streak entering Wednesday’s 8 p.m. tip at Texas Tech on ESPN+. The Mountaineers beat Tech, 66-54, in Morgantown a couple weeks ago and will be facing a very motivated Red Raider team.
This game is not a must win for WVU, but it is close to a must win for the Red Raiders who have dropped two in a row, fell out of the polls and had seen their projected seeding drop to as low as 11 or 12. This is a great opportunity for WVU to build its resume.