MORGANTOWN — Welcome to the start of Big 12 play, where West Virginia begins its conference season against No. 11 Texas Tech (11-1) — the first top 25 team the Mountaineers have faced this season.
With Iowa State guard Marial Shayok — a graduate transfer from Virginia — a distant third, the Mountaineers will be facing one of the two favorites for Big 12 Player of the Year today in Texas Tech sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, who had one heck of a game in Morgantown as a freshman, scoring 26 points on 3 of 5 shooting from 3-point range. And, oh yeah, the 6-foot-5 guard added 12 rebounds in that game, an 84-74 loss to the Mountaineers. The other favorite at this point would be Kansas forward Dedric Lawson — a Memphis transfer — who is averaging 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. WVU will first face the Jayhawks on Jan. 19.
But, for now, it’s the Big 12 opener, in which the Mountaineers have been pretty good. They are 5-1 in Big 12 opening games, with all five wins on the road. This is the first time since the 2012-13 season the Mountaineers have opened conference play at home.
Here’s what you need to know:
TV: ESPNU for the 7 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: West Virginia is a 3.5-point underdog.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
How good is Culver? Good enough to put his name into the NBA Draft last season as a freshman, before withdrawing it and returning to school. He’s shooting 45 percent from three and 56 percent from the floor. Basically, he makes shots and can make his own shot, whether it’s shooting a three or driving to the basket. Most mock drafts for 2019 have him going between 13-20 in the first round. His 6-foot-5 frame is bigger than every guard WVU has other than Jermaine Haley, so that could be an interesting development.
Why is WVU not on the road for the conference opener? Only the Big 12 schedule makers can answer this one, but it does not make WVU coach Bob Huggins all that happy to be playing at home today. For the past five seasons, WVU opened with two Big 12 games on the road played within just a few days of each other and while school was still out for semester break. In that sequence, WVU could stay on the road, because players didn’t have to worry about classes and the Mountaineers could get two long road trips out of the way without having to return to Morgantown in between. That won’t be the case when WVU travels to Texas on Saturday and then to Kansas State next Wednesday. Classes begin Monday, so WVU will have to return home after Texas and then travel back out to Kansas State and then still have seven more road trips into the Central Tome Zone for conference games.
What is West Virginia’s best road to the postseason? Aside from winning the Big 12 tournament in March, the Mountaineers’ best chance at opening up an avenue toward the NCAA tournament is by playing well at home, which includes pulling off an upset, or two, inside the WVU Coliseum. West Virginia enters conference play without any kind of a signature win, so the Mountaineers have little room for error, which means they would almost have to sweep their nine home Big 12 games to have a realistic shot, and then maybe pulling off another upset at Tennessee in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Even with that, West Virginia would still need to win a few Big 12 games on the road and then hope for the best in the conference tournament. It’s not an easy road, but there is still a possibility. If you’re talking NIT, then have a lot of success at home and win a couple of games on the road that are winnable. Just stay above .500.