For being ranked the No. 8 college basketball team in the country, the West Virginia Mountaineers have not been winning games comfortably this season.
WVU (7-1, 1-0 Big 12) has won just three games by double-digit points this season, despite only playing against two other ranked teams thus far. On Friday, the Mountaineers were down at halftime to the 1-4 Iowa State Cyclones and only took the lead in the final two minutes of the game, winning 70-65.
“We don’t want to be in a dog fight every game,” senior guard Taz Sherman said after the game. “Somebody could hit a lucky three and now you lose. We’ve got to continue to work on just being us no matter who we play.”
Junior forward Derek Culver said the Mountaineers have a problem with play to the level of their opponents this season. Case in point, WVU’s worst shooting performances this season have come against Iowa State (38.2 percent) and 3-3 North Texas (37.7 percent). Meanwhile, WVU’s best shooting performance this season (58.1 percent) came against then-No. 19 Richmond.
“We’re a victim of playing down to our competition, we do that a lot,” Culver said. “I don’t understand why we do that and I’m guilty of it too, I’m probably one of the most guilty ones.”
For WVU coach Bob Huggins the answer as to why is simple. As a top-10 team, Huggins said WVU is going to get everyone’s best all season.
“We’re to the point now where we’re like the other teams in the Top 10,” Huggins said. “You go play a Top 10 team, you’re all fired up. I watched Iowa State play Kansas State the other day, they didn’t play like that. They were ready to play, they were excited about playing, excited about having a chance to beat a Top 10 team.”
WVU, meanwhile, has been underestimating its opponents early this season according to Huggins.
“I think it’s human nature that you don’t give them the respect they deserve and we didn’t,” Huggins said. “We weren’t ready, I knew we weren’t ready in warmups.”
Huggins said he does not expect the Mountaineers to underestimate their next opponent, No. 5 Kansas, especially because that game will be played in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. However, Culver knows that if they cannot shake this trend, the Mountaineers will not make it through Big 12 play unscathed.
“We’ve really had to grit and fight on our knuckles every game so far, we’ve never really just blown a team out of the water,” Culver said. “Everything’s just been a battle. If we can just get out of our own way and stop playing down to our competition, we’d be fine.”