MORGANTOWN — Through the course of a seven-game losing streak, we’ve already seen how far West Virginia can sink in the Big 12 standings.
The question now: How high can the Mountaineers rise?
Having ended the skid Tuesday against Iowa State, that saw WVU (14-9, 3-7 Big 12) get back senior guard Taz Sherman from concussion protocol, the Mountaineers now have an opportunity to go from last place in the conference to the middle of the pack in the span of two games.
And, to get analytical for a moment, while 40% of the teams in the ACC and 36% of the Big Ten have already been eliminated from a conference regular-season championship, all 10 Big 12 schools are still mathematically alive in the stretch run.
It’s here we flash back to Sherman’s shock-the-world quote after beating Iowa State, “Once we do turn this around, I feel like we’re going to shock a whole lot of people,” he said. “It’s going to shock everyone.”
The Mountaineers could take a major step in that direction at 2 p.m. Saturday, in a road game against Oklahoma State (11-12, 4-7), which has lost five of its last six games.
A win at Gallagher-Iba Arena — where WVU has won six out of nine times since joining the Big 12 — would likely move WVU up to sixth place in the league standings.
If that is followed up with another win at Kansas State on Monday, the Mountaineers are staring directly at TCU for fifth place, and WVU still has two games later this season against the Horned Frogs.
Shock the world? WVU still has to win, but the Mountaineers have had success in the Coliseum against Kansas and Texas, and both of those nationally ranked teams have yet to visit Morgantown.
It all looks good on paper, and maybe shocking a whole lot of people isn’t out of the question.
The problem: While playing in a league filled with parity may provide a larger window to move back up in the standings quickly, winning games in a league where all 10 teams are ranked in the top 69 of the NCAA NET rankings is no foregone conclusion.
“No, they’re not easy, they’re hard,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said Friday. “The travel for us is brutal. You don’t understand until you get back at 5 a.m. and you’ve flown four hours up and four hours back.”
And so the Mountaineers are about to embark on their most crucial journey of the season.
Within the realm of possibility is getting back to NCAA tournament contention, but the reality of going right back to the Big 12’s cellar is also a possibility with more setbacks.
WVU took care of the Cowboys inside the Coliseum back in January, and did it by going 21 of 22 from the foul line and with Jalen Bridges leading the way with 22 points.
Oklahoma State has been slightly better on offense over its last five games, averaging nearly 72 points per game, but the Cowboys did lose four of those games.
Different players have had their moments in each game during that stretch. Avery Anderson had 34 against Iowa State on Jan. 26, Isaac Likekele had 19 on Tuesday in a loss against TCU and Kansas transfer Bryce Thompson had 22 points in a loss against Kansas State last week.
For West Virginia, Huggins called Sherman’s return on Tuesday, “a shot in the arm for everybody.”
Sherman’s stamina was the question. WVU had three practice days leading up to today’s game, much of which was working to get the guard back in basketball shape.
“It’s hard to get in basketball shape if you don’t play basketball,” Huggins said. “You can get on the treadmill and the bike, but it’s the start and the stop, the running and jumping, it’s a different cardio.
“Taz is a smart guy. He understands it and he wants to play and lead our team. Taz is not a guy you have to follow around to make sure he’s doing the right things.”
WVU at OKLAHOMA STATE
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 36, HD 851; DirecTV 209; DISH 143)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM