West Virginia Basketball has completed non-conference play at 5-8. And now the team has seen multiple versions of the roster as many key pieces have been moving in and out of the lineup since Nov. 6. With RaeQuan Battle, Noah Farrakhan and Kerr Kriisa back, this Mountaineer team shouldn’t look like an under .500 team come February but it could be too late in the Big 12 gauntlet.
WVU made the NCAA Tournament last year with an at-large bid at 19 wins. The Mountaineers went 7-11 in conference play and still comfortably made the tournament as a 9-seed. There was a scare in mid-February once the team lost three in-a-row. West Virginia went out and won four out of their next five, with their only loss coming at Allen Fieldhouse by a basket. Erik Stevenson may not be walking through that door but Battle is, who is averaging 27.3 points through his first three games as a Mountaineer.
The magic number for West Virginia right now is 18 wins. They’ll have to win 13 games between Jan. 5 and Selection Sunday. In previous years, WVU has been able to claim many “quality losses” on their resume as the NET rankings will favor them playing it close against a top team. At eight losses before Big 12 play even starts, the Mountaineers have zero room for quality losses. Instead of just shrugging off a loss to Kansas and Baylor, West Virginia will have to beat those teams and make up for the bad losses during non-conference play.
13 conference wins is tough for any Big 12 team, let alone a team under .500. Right now, I don’t think West Virginia will be able to reach that mark but they can make this thing very interesting especially once Jesse Edwards returns.
“They’ve got a good team. The uninitiated will look at their record and say well they’re not that good. That’s being lazy. Do your research,” Houston HC Kelvin Sampson said. “They may be the most snakebit team in America.”
Edwards has been sidelined for over two weeks with a fractured right wrist that he suffered during the UMass game. Edwards had successful surgery on Dec. 20 and it was believed by Josh Eilert that the 6-foot-11 big man was getting his cast taken off on Thursday. Edwards is still projected to return within the next two weeks. The Syracuse transfer is averaging 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 10 games. Edwards will be huge for West Virginia to finally put all of its pieces together for the first time this season.
Right now during Edwards’ absence, Akok Akok and Patrick Suemnick are running the five and that’s it. Big 12 teams should easily control the boards vs. WVU until Edwards comes back. I’ll give it to the team though, they did compete with Ohio State on the boards after a terrible start.
WVU has been the weirdest team in college basketball this season based on how they can compete with anybody but also lose to anybody. Against the quality teams, the Mountaineers have struggled to get over the hump and secure a quad-1 or quad-2 win so far. Don’t worry because they’ll have plenty of chances this conference season.
This team is going to take another couple weeks to mesh, and then they’ll need to figure out roles once more when Edwards comes back. West Virginia can beat a handful of teams in the Big 12 with their talent but can the interim coach Eilert hang around with the likes of Sampson, Bill Self, Scott Drew, etc.?
West Virginia has a shot here to make things interesting in the conference and steal wins against good teams. I think right now with how the season has went, there’s not much outside the top production that shows that West Virginia can win more than five games in the Big 12. I very well could be wrong and this team could mesh very well with their talent but it’ll take a Mount Everest climb to return to the NCAA Tournament.
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