Chip Shots

by Jim Buzzerd

Big 12 Tournament time
The West Virginia University Mountaineers’ regular season portion of the basketball season is complete and WVU is sitting with a 22-9 overall record and an 11-7 record in Big 12 Conference play. Their conference record was good enough  for a three-way tie for second place with Texas Tech and Kansas State. Both Tech and WVU were 3-1 in head to head matchups among the three, but the Red Raiders get the tournament’s second seed based on their 1-1 record against conference champion Kansas. West Virginia was 0-2 against the Jayhawks despite losing double digit leads.
The third seeded Mountaineers will play six seed Baylor in Thursday night’s final game in Kansas City. Game time is listed as 9 p.m. EST, but the first game begins at 7 p.m., so the tip will assuredly be later than 9 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
WVU had a chance to lock up the two seed with a win Saturday at Texas, but wound up on the short end of an 87-79 score in overtime. And so it goes with the 2017-18 edition of WVU basketball. At one point the Mountaineers were 15-1 and ranked second in the country. WVU even began what promised to be a tough conference schedule with a 4-0 start. Then they lost back to back at Texas Tech 72-71 and at home to Kansas 77-61. Those games began a stretch where the Mountaineers would lose five of six games.
West Virginia had won three in a row going into the Texas game Saturday. WVU had beaten the Longhorns by 35 points in January and Texas was playing without center Mo Bamba Saturday, but WVU couldn’t manage a win. College basketball in March is one of the most enjoyable times of the year, at least if you’re even a little bit interested in college basketball. If you’re a Mountaineer fan, this season has been a bit stressful. I mean it’s tough when you find yourself actually worrying more as their lead goes.
I’m never particularly confident when it comes to WVU and tournament time. The last two seasons I thought the Mountaineers had the ability to make a significant run in the NCAA tournament. Two years ago West Virginia was a three seed and were non-competitive in the opening round to 13th seeded Stephen F Austin. Last year the Mountaineers advanced to the Sweet 16 as a four seed where they lost in a close game to eventual national runner up Gonzaga.
In 2018 WVU will make its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and based on their performance this season the result of either of the last two seasons seems as likely as the other. Ditto the Big 12 Tournament. An opening round loss to Baylor wouldn’t be a surprise, nor would winning the championship be shocking. What’s left is determining just what seed the Mountaineers will be. Right now ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has WVU as a five seed. That estimate indicates a loss to Baylor could mean a six seed, while a Big 12 Tournament title could raise them to a three seed.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks West Virginia’s Jevon Carter will suit up for the final time as a Mountaineer. Hats off to the unheralded recruit coming out of high school who was just named to the All Big 12 First Team, Defensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row and the All Big 12 Defensive Team for the fourth consecutive season. National honors are coming in as well. More on those later.
Sophomore center Sagaba Konate made huge strides this season on both ends of the floor and has been recognized for his efforts. Konate has gone from a struggling foul prone kid to a shot-blocking machine with a rapidly improving offensive game. His effort has landed him a spot with Carter on the All Defensive Team as well as being a Big 12 Third Team selection. I do worry about how officials in the NCAA Tournament will allow Konate to play. That may be the single biggest factor for WVU going forward.