Sign of life
by Jim Buzzerd
West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team may be coming to life just in time to make a run to the NCAA tournament in March. WVU began Big 12 play by losing five straight conference games and appeared destined for their third last place finish in four years. Don’t look now, but the Mountaineers have won three of their last four games. That included home wins over #14 TCU and #15 Auburn and last Wednesday the Mountaineers ended a 12 conference road losing streak by winning at Texas Tech.
This isn’t to say West Virginia is out of the woods by any means. They still have a trail of lost games they could have won. In Saturday’s win over Auburn in the SEC/Big 12 challenge the Mountaineers roared out to a 17 point first half lead, led by 16 at halftime, but had to hang on when the Tigers cut the lead to one point late in the game. It was nerve racking watching the lead slip away because losing games in the second half has been WVU’s forte this season.
The Mountaineers held on though, thanks in large part, to Erik Stevenson’s 31 point performance. Since Stevenson fouled out against Oklahoma State on January 2 with a technical foul that arguably led to the loss, he has not played with the passion he had displayed previously. WVU needs a passionate Stevenson, but one who can keep the passion between the lines.
Saturday’s effort is what is needed. Stevenson was 7-10 from beyond the arc had six rebounds and two turnovers in 38 minutes. If Stevenson can remain a positive on the court and gets help from Tre Mitchell and Emmitt Matthews, who have struggled lately, the Mountaineers could find their way to the Big Dance.
What will it take for West Virginia to make the tournament? They are currently 13-8 overall and 2-6 in Big 12 play. The remaining schedule is all Big 12 matchups. The conference is regarded very highly and at various points in the season some of the bracket guys had as many as nine Big 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament. That probably won’t happen, but the current consensus is the Mountaineers will get a good look from the committee at 18-13 overall and 7-11 in conference play.
So, the Mountaineers need to find five or more wins in the next 10 games. A week ago, that seemed unlikely. Now there is some hope the better play will continue. WVU was at TCU Tuesday night and will host Oklahoma at the Coliseum Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. Two losses this week will put WVU’s chances on life support. Two wins this week will put WVU in a good spot. A split is a positive.