MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – This is a little too familiar for WVU head coach Bob Huggins and his team.
West Virginia heads to Kansas City in last place in the Big 12, just three years off of the same situation. In 2019, the Mountaineers were 12-19 finishing 10th in the conference. In the first two rounds, West Virginia shocked the world, beating Oklahoma and Texas Tech, the eventual national runner-ups. The Mountaineers fell to Kansas in the semi-final round, just two wins from stealing an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. Huggins threw out a lineup of Derek Culver, Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jordan McCabe, who all were freshmen at the time.
The trio of freshmen performed very well, as Matthews recorded a career high with 28 points against the Red Raiders. Culver and McCabe also produced great play during the conference tournament.
“I can remember Jordan McCabe running a team and running it pretty well,” Huggins said. “I can remember Emmitt Matthews stealing a ball and going down, dunking it over top of a guy. I can remember how hard and how committed those guys were to winning.”
Now, West Virginia can set themselves up for the same scenario.
“I think our freshmen that we have in our program right now are going to be really good players,” Huggins said. “I think you can see that they’re starting to get some playing time.”
It’s pretty doubtful that Huggins will start Kobe Johnson, Seth Wilson, Jamel King and James Okonkwo. Huggins has went back-and-forth throughout the conference season debating whether or not to play the freshmen. The future Hall of Famer wants to save King and Okonkwo’s redshirt eligibilities, but Johnson and Wilson have already surpassed their opportunity, so why not play them?
Both Johnson and Wilson have shown flashes of becoming the next great Mountaineer backcourt. Against Kansas State in January, Johnson went on a 5-0 run by himself to get WVU back into the game, which the Mountaineers eventually won. Against Baylor, in Waco, Wilson was brought into the game. Wilson connected on 2-threes, hitting a buzzer-beater at the end of the first half.
The Mountaineers are now in a win or go home situation. WVU will need to win four-straight games to reach the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons. What we know for sure is that if West Virginia defeats Kansas State on Wednesday, they will face No. 6 Kansas. West Virginia is going to have to make magic happen again, they will have to take out both Kansas schools.
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