The Dominion Post  
 

WVU faces new challenges in Texas Tech

Created on:   Fri, Jan 12, 2018   11:41 PM

Last modified:   Fri, Jan 12, 2018   11:41 PM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — WVU’s ascension to No. 2 in the national polls was not a rah-rah moment for head coach Bob Huggins.

Instead, it simply reminded him of an old dog.

“The first time we reached No. 1 when we were at Cincinnati, an old friend called me and said, ‘Remember, the dog with the bone is always in danger,’ ” Huggins said. “I tell our guys that all the time. We’re going to have a bull’s-eye on our back.”

Everybody else wants the bone, and so far, has been pretty good at going after the bone in what has been a wild and unpredictable season in the top 25.

Consider:

Three schools who were ranked in the top 10 of AP preseason poll completely dropped out of the top 25 at different points this season.

While Duke remained steady at No. 1 for the first five weeks of the season, Villanova has been ranked No. 1 twice in the past five weeks with Michigan State also earning the top spot for a week.

Last week, No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Duke, No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Xavier all lost in the same week.

And who would have thought the Mountaineers (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) would rise to No. 2 after an opening 88-65 loss against Texas A&M to start the season?

“We’ve talked a lot about that,” WVU forward Teddy Allen said. “People only really had us ranked to start the season, because of what the team did last year and then we got beat in our first game. But, we continued to work and come together and here we are.”

Yes, here the Mountaineers are. They are an old dog growling at others to stay at a safe distance, while hoping to keep a program in a national spotlight it hasn’t been in since Jerry West was the school’s star.

It survived an ugly 57-54 affair against Baylor, but now WVU takes its act on the road on Jan. 13, to face deep and talented Texas Tech (14-2, 3-1), who is ranked No. 8 in the country and is looking to bounce back from its first Big 12 loss of the season.

The Mountaineers will also have junior forward Esa Ahmad in its rotation for the first time this season, a much-needed addition in terms of experience and athletic ability.

Ahmad missed the first 16 games of the season due to an NCAA suspension for not meeting eligibility requirements.

“He’s been really good in practice, that’s all I know,” Huggins said of Ahmad. “He made an impact a year ago. I would assume he will again.”

Ahmad will join a rotation that has seen players such as Allen, Lamont West and Sagaba Konate improve greatly since the start of the season.

“He might be the most improved player in the conference,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said of Konate, who is second in the Big 12 averaging 3.1 blocks per game. “That doesn’t surprise me. That’s where coaching comes in. Coach Huggins’ players get better. Look at Konate, he is a much better player this year than he was last year. I think he’s one of the top two or three shot blockers in our conference and he’s one of the best rebounders.”

Texas Tech will counter with a lineup that features high-scoring Keenan Evans at point guard, as well as a lineup that features five seniors, a fourth-year junior and two talented freshmen in Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver.

“They’re good and they’re extremely well-coached,” Huggins said. “They have a good mix of the old and the new.”

It all sets up as another step into the unknown for the Mountaineers. First, to see how Ahmad reacts with WVU’s lineup, but also to see how WVU reacts playing as the No. 2 in the country for the first time since 1959.

“The hard thing is, its easier to get there than it is to stay there,” Huggins said. “It’s hard to stay there. That’s why you admire what Bill Self [Kansas head coach] has done at Kansas for all of these years. They not only got there, but they stayed there.”

Note

The WVU ticket office announced Jan. 12 that WVU’s home game against Kansas, on Jan. 15, is now sold out.

Tickets still remain for home games against Iowa State (Feb. 24) and Texas Tech (Feb. 26).