MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – For all intents and purposes, this season’s West Virginia team only has one player who has played through more than one Big 12 conference schedule.
There are three seniors on the team, Jermaine Haley, Logan Routt and Chase Harler, but this is only Haley’s second season at WVU and Rout has only played sparingly through his career. That makes Harler the only Mountaineers this season with multiple years of experience playing in the Big 12.
This fact has become glaringly obvious to WVU coach Bob Huggins, who said his young players just do not know tough the conference can be.
“They don’t understand,” Huggins said after defeating Kansas State Saturday afternoon. “They don’t understand how hard it is. Every game’s a hard game. Particularly in this league, every game is a hard game. This is a very physical league.”
Saturday’s game was a rematch with the Wildcats, who had beaten the Mountaineers 84-68 on Jan. 18. While every team in the conference can be tough to play, Harler said sometimes the traveling and everything else can make it even harder.
“Every game’s going to be competitive,” Harler said. “We played at Texas Tech (Wednesday) and got back at 5 a.m. and we had weight lifting and practice the next day, practice the next day and we played today…It’s more mental than anything at this point because you don’t want to wear out your body before a big game. I think we did a good job the last two days of just being mentally in it.”
WVU is 5-3 in the conference so far with all three losses coming on the road. They have only won one conference game on the road this season, a victory at Oklahoma State at the beginning of January.
Two of WVU’s best players this season have been true freshmen Oscar Tshiebwe and Miles McBride. Both said they are learning the hard way about the difficulties that go along with playing in the Big 12.
“It is tough but I’m getting used to it a little bit, but it is tough,” Tshiebwe said. “(Older guys on the team) have told me ‘you’ve got to be ready’. College is different, college basketball is different.”
McBride said the team has had to be more physical in conference games than what they needed to be when playing out of the conference.
“So far we’ve obviously had a lot of tough games, rough stretches in those games,” McBride said. “I think you’ve got to get acclimated to going an hour back, playing at different times. (We have learned about) the physicality, just being a little bit more physical with teams. At first, we really weren’t and now people understand, people scout and it just becomes execution.”
For Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, playing against all the best teams in the Big 12 is fun.
“It’s a great challenge, it’s a fun challenge, you come to college basketball to play in the Big 12 to play the top teams in the country,” Weber said. “It just happens that we had No. (12) today and No. 1 (Baylor) on Monday so not an easy task.”
The Mountaineers will stay in conference for the rest of the regular season. Next week hosting Iowa State at the Coliseum on Wednesday and traveling to Oklahoma on Saturday.