MORGANTOWN — Hard to believe, but we are less than two weeks (11 days to be exact) from the end of the regular season, and 15 days from the start of the Big 12 tournament.
It was not an easy journey to get to this point for 10th-ranked West Virginia. We know about the bouts with COVID-19. We know about the efforts it took to find quick replacements for some nonconference opponents and how the schedule kept changing at the beginning of the season for the Crossover Classic. We know about forward Oscar Tshiebwe transferring to Kentucky in mid-season.
With all of that said, maybe more than ever, it’s never been more appreciated that March is upon us and the Mountaineers are still playing games that matter, which includes today’s game against TCU at the Schollmaier Arena.
I’m going to go in a different direction today and put up some predictions for the all-Big 12 honors that will be coming out prior to the Big 12 tournament. The official awards are voted on by the league’s coaches, so we are calling this very unofficial, but we think they’ll be pretty accurate.
We begin with Big 12 Coach of the Year. Drumroll please ….
Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Hard not to vote for a guy whose team was picked sixth (and 14 points behind fifth place) in the preseason poll and is currently in second place, No. 7 in the AP poll and projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Plus, Kruger is just one likable guy.
2. Scott Drew, Baylor
3. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
We now go to the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year …..
Taz Sherman, West Virginia
The Mountaineers’ senior guard is in the top 20 in scoring and second in free-throw percentage in the Big 12. He scores 12.7 points per game and shoots 38% from 3-point range. He started just five times, so he’s a likely shoo-in for this award, but there is some good competition.
2. Terrence Shannon Jr., Texas Tech
3. Adam Flagler, Baylor
4. Matthew Mayer, Baylor
Now, it’s time for the Freshman of the Year ….
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
This is the no-brainer of the bunch. Cunningham leads the Big 12 in scoring (18.7 ppg) and has been the most dominant freshman in the entire country from start to finish. Plus, he’s had the Cowboys on the cusp of the top 25 and pushing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Greg Brown, Texas
3. Jalen Wilson, Kansas
4. Mike Miles,TCU
5. Nijel Pack, Kansas State
And for the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year ….
Mac McClung, Texas Tech
The transfer from Georgetown made an instant impact with his new team. The junior guard averaged 18.5 points in his first four games with the Red Raiders. He’s stayed pretty consistent since. McClung is fourth in the Big 12 in scoring (16.9 ppg) and he’s also shooting 81.1% from the foul line. His season-high of 30 came against WVU and he’s had 13 games with at least 17 points.
2. Umoja Gibson, Oklahoma
3. Jalen Coleman-Lands, Iowa State
4. Marcos Santos-Silva, Texas Tech
Last, but certainly not least, we give you the Big 12 Player of the Year ….
Jared Butler, Baylor
In guiding the Bears to an undefeated season (so far), Butler is averaging 17 points per game, but also 5.2 assists per game. He’s shooting an amazing 44.6% from 3-point range and he’s on a team that wins games by an average of 24.2 points per game. Enough said.
2. Derek Culver, West Virginia
3. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
As for one final prediction, we’ll go with this as our all-Big 12 first-team glance: Jared Butler (Baylor), Derek Culver (WVU), Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State), Mac McClung (Texas Tech) and Austin Reaves (Oklahoma). Arguments can certainly be made for Davion Mitchell (Baylor), Deuce McBride (WVU) and R.J. Nembhard (TCU), but those are the five we’re sticking with.
Now, back to the game against TCU. Here’s what you need to know:
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 36, 851 HD; DirecTV 209; DISH 143) for the 7 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: West Virginia is a 7-point favorite.
WHAT DOES BOB HUGGINS HAVE TO SAY?
The West Virginia head coach gave some insight as to what it’s been like for the Mountaineers to live life on the road in the Lone Star State. WVU played at Texas Saturday and will remain in the state to play at Baylor on Thursday before returning home. Since flying to Texas on Friday, the rest of the travel has been by bus.
“It’s rough,” Huggins said. “You put your head down on a pillow and then the next day you’re in a different place and you look around and wonder what hotel room you’re in. It’s something we have to go through that other people really don’t go through. Some of the coaches understand and some of them don’t.”
Since playing Texas on Saturday, WVU will have played four games in eight days, which includes TCU, Baylor and then returning home to host Kansas State on Saturday. Then, in trying to predict what the Big 12 will do with make-up games, the Mountaineers could spend the final six or seven days of the season playing three more games (all at home) against Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU.
Potentially, that’s a stretch of seven games in 14 days to end the season. Obviously fatigue is a concern for WVU coaches, but another factor is how will the NCAA selection committee weigh those games in terms of WVU’s potential seed in the national tournament? Will the committee see it as a bonus if WVU were to finish strong or would they penalize the Mountaineers for maybe losing a game they weren’t expected to lose?
In Huggins’ view, he said his thoughts would be the committee wouldn’t weigh the crammed schedule at all, which Huggins was not a fan of.
“They never have, so I doubt it,” Huggins said. “I was on the committee to figure out a better way to do it than the RPI, and the people who came up with what we have now (the NCAA’s NET rankings) were basically Ivy League people. As coaches, we tried to say why would that carry so much weight and why did this not carry as much weight and tried to tweak it the best we could. I’m told from people who have been on the selection committee, that a lot of it is just eyeballing them, that they actually watch a ton of games.”
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
WEST VIRGINIA (15-6, 8-4 Big 12)
F–Derek Culver, 6-10, jr., 15.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg
F–Jalen Bridges, 6-7, fr., 4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg
F–Emmitt Matthews Jr., 6-7, jr., 7.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg
G–Deuce McBride, 6-2, soph., 16.3 ppg, 4.7 apg
G–Sean McNeil, 6-3, jr., 11.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg
TCU (11-9, 4-7 Big 12)
C–Kevin Samuel, 6-11, jr., 9.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg
F–Charles O’Bannon Jr., 6-6, sr., 6.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg
G–Mike Miles, 6-1, fr., 14.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G–P.J. Fuller, 6-4, soph., 5.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg
G–R.J. Nembhard, 6-5, jr, 16.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg
I said last week on Twitter that if I missed my pick on the Texas game (I did) that I would pull a play out of George Costanza’s playbook and do the exact opposite on my next pick. So, here we go. I think, just because WVU has spent a number of days on the road and that TCU generally keeps games close at home (especially against WVU), that this would be a struggle for both teams.
But, we’re doing the opposite, so West Virginia wins, rolls and covers, 81-68.
Justin’s season picks against the spread: 7-11-1.