West Virginia could finish as high as No. 2 or as low as No. 4 depending on what happens when the No. 6 Mountaineers host No. 17 Oklahoma State for their regular-season finale Saturday afternoon.
The good news for WVU (18-7, 11-5 Big 12) is that the Mountaineers control their own destiny. With a win, WVU will finish second-place in the Big 12 standing heading into the conference tournament. With a loss to the Cowboys, WVU would finish third if TCU defeats Texas or fourth if the Longhorns win.
While the Mountaineers are not necessarily surprised they have the chance to play for second place in the conference, finishing this high was was not a certainty. Despite high expectations in the preseason, WVU’s season hit a bit of a snag when sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe suddenly transferred to Kentucky at the beginning of January and promising freshman Isaiah Cottrell was sidelined for the season with a knee injury.
“Everyone kind of counted us out [after that] and we took that as ‘let’s show everybody that we can be better than what people are saying we’re going to be’,” freshman Jalen Bridges said Thursday. “We’re still that West Virginia team that everybody was saying had Final Four potential. We took that to heart.”
Bridges has been one of the most important players on the team this season, joining the starting lineup following the roster shakeup and substantially raising his level of play. Bridges had a career game against TCU on Thursday, posting 22 points and 12 rebounds for his first career double-double.
“I don’t know that he has a ceiling,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of Bridges. “He’s got plenty of things that he can work on to continue to expand his game. The great thing about JB is JB does what you ask him to do. He really tries to excel at what you ask him to do and that doesn’t happen a whole lot in this climate we’re in with college basketball.”
Since Bridges has joined the starting lineup, WVU has gone 10-5 with four wins over ranked opponents. No. 17 Oklahoma State (17-7, 10-7) will be the Mountaineers’ final test this regular season when the Cowboys come to Morgantown on Saturday. The Cowboys had won five in a row before losing 81-70 to Baylor on Thursday.
OSU is led by star freshman Cade Cunningham, who scored 25 points against the Mountaineers in the teams’ first meeting.
“I don’t know what to expect [from Cunningham],” Huggins said. “They can play him [in the post], they can play him on the wing, he’s played point guard. He’s a talented, talented guy.”
Cunningham and junior guard Isaac Likekele are both dealing with injuries and their statuses are unknown for Saturday’s game. WVU and OSU will tipoff at 2 p.m. from the WVU Coliseum and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.