Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

Against the Big 12’s Big Two, West Virginia finds how far it must climb

MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins had just finished his soliloquy on the difficulties of competing in the Big 12.

Along the way, Huggins mentioned that seven of the 10 head coaches in the league have coached in a Final Four, as well as the conference’s success in producing names for the NBA Draft.

He didn’t mention former Oklahoma standout Trae Young or former Kansas standout Joel Embiid by name, but they are just two of the 14 lottery selections from Big 12 schools over the last eight drafts.


Huggins did mention that all 10 Big 12 schools are currently ranked in the top 65 — the only Power Five Conference that has all of its schools in the top 100 — of the NCAA NET rankings, which are used to determine at-large teams and seeding for the NCAA tournament.

Having said all of that, Huggins admits it’s still a tough realization in how the Mountaineers have performed against the Big 12’s Big Two in Kansas and Baylor.

“I have a history of looking at the bad and not relishing the good,” he said Tuesday after the Mountaineers fell to fifth-ranked Baylor, 77-68, at the Coliseum.

Just three days earlier, WVU traveled to Allen Fieldhouse and was whipped by Kansas by 26 points in an arena the Mountaineers have never won in.

The “bad” in this case is plenty, as both Kansas and Baylor dominated in the paint, combining for a 82-38 edge in points around the basket.

The Mountaineers shot a combined 33% from the floor in those two games and recorded just 15 assists.

If WVU (13-4, 2-3 Big 12) somehow expected better results against the elite, it didn’t happen.

The question now: What happens next?

There are still 13 Big 12 games remaining and yet another game against the Bears before January comes to a close.

“It’s tough. We don’t feel like our backs are against the wall, but it’s just super frustrating,” WVU guard Sean McNeil said. “We go to Texas and play extremely well in the first half and then lay it down in the second. Tonight, against arguably the best team in the country, we’re competing and we’re right there.

“We lose by nine, but in reality it was probably a little closer than that. Backs against the wall? I don’t think so. We’ll figure it out.”

Up next is a road game at No. 18 Texas Tech on Saturday, which has already beaten both Kansas and Baylor this season.

“Another good team,” McNeil said. “But, on any given night, anybody can be beaten.”

What exactly is the difference between WVU and the Big 12’s Big Two?

Huggins pointed toward team chemistry, especially along the Mountaineers’ front line.

Entering this season, only power forward Gabe Osabuohien had any experience in conference play.

Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap transferred in from Conference USA schools. Isaiah Cottrell was hurt before conference play began last season and Seny N’Diaye played a total of 34 minutes against Big 12 teams last season.

“You play in a league like this that has really, really good players and terrific coaching and we’re kind of playing with a bunch of bigs that really don’t know our system,” Huggins said.

“You look at that crew down there (Balor) and they’ve been together and that makes a heck of a difference. You look at the really good teams that we’ve had here have been teams that have been together and know each other.”

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