One week can change the entire perception of a season just like that. Now West Virginia controls their own destiny until Selection Sunday.
West Virginia picked up their biggest win of the season on Monday night over Iowa State, 72-69. The metrics would say that Iowa State isn’t the best team WVU has defeated this year, and that’s true. But when you consider the situation this team was in against the Cyclones, it has the potential to be a season-changing win.
With just under nine minutes to go, Iowa State completed a 6-0 run to increase their lead to seven. The Mountaineers were already without top scorer Tre Mitchell, who received a flagrant-2 foul earlier in the half; as well as James Okonkwo and Mohamed Wague with their recent injuries. Bob Huggins had to dig deep into his bench, asking quality minutes from Kobe Johnson, Seth Wilson and Patrick Suemnick. 6-foot-7 forward Emmitt Matthews needed to play minutes at the five at the end of the game.
“A great team effort,” Huggins said postgame.
The Basketball Hall of Famer has talked about it all season: the will to win. West Virginia went on a 12-5 run in the final four minutes to steal the game.
West Virginia has blown plenty of opportunities this season to unofficially secure themselves into the NCAA Tournament. Just a week ago, this team let a red-hot Texas Tech group come in and really change West Virginia’s vibe on the season.
I think that West Virginia has set themselves up to be in a perfect position heading into the final regular season game, I really do. WVU is playing more for momentum than seed lines or bracketology on Saturday. A win over Kansas State on Senior Day can continue that momentum heading into the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament. I would not want to be a team that has to face a low-seeded Big 12 team in the first weekend, no thanks.
This isn’t my prediction that West Virginia is going to make the NCAA Tournament and go on this second-weekend run. I just think that the win over Iowa State, the way they did it, can be the beginning of a run. And it’s the best time of the year to do so.
Huggins should consider playing small the rest of the way, as he might be forced to anyways with the injury to Wague. Playing small has clearly worked over the past two games. West Virginia is a turnover away from taking Kansas into overtime at the Phog. They throw Matthews at the five and steal the game from Iowa State in Ames.
West Virginia is still a team that can improve. WVU needs to still fix the turnover issue. They won’t win many games turning it over 21 times.
The Mountaineers can breathe for a minute and focus on hosting a ranked Wildcats team on Saturday with Big 12 seed implications on the line. If WVU wins and Oklahoma State loses to Texas Tech, the Mountaineers will take the 7-seed and face Oklahoma in the first round.
There’s a lot still to be played for, but now is the perfect time for West Virginia to get hot.
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