Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

Big 12 gauntlet continues to be the obstacle WVU can’t hurdle

MORGANTOWN — The similarities have become too great to ignore, even for WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins.

“I know our record coming out of (non-conference) was pretty much the same as it was before,” he said following WVU’s 83-78 loss against Baylor on Wednesday.

For a second-consecutive season, the Mountaineers (10-6, 0-4 Big 12) built up hope during the non-conference schedule.

WVU was 11-1 last season through games played in November and December and was 10-2 this season, which led to a No. 24 ranking in the AP Top 25 just prior to the start of Big 12 play.

And for a second-consecutive season, conference play has been the tell-tale sign as to the type of overall season the Mountaineers produced.

WVU finished 4-14 in the league in 2022, the first time the Mountaineers finished last in the Big 12.

The Mountaineers are now just one more loss from tying their worst start ever in the Big 12, which happened in 2019.

That pivotal game comes Saturday at Oklahoma (10-6, 1-3), where the Mountaineers are just 2-8 all-time, and WVU hasn’t won at the Lloyd Noble Center since 2018.

Compounded onto that is the fact the Mountaineers have lost 11 straight on the road against Big 12 opposition.

So, what makes the Big 12 such an obstacle for the Mountaineers?

“It’s hard, because you can improve in this league and you still might not win,” is how Baylor head coach Scott Drew put it. “It’s that competitive and that tough.”

Computer numbers all favor the Big 12 as the toughest league in the country, which has also been the case in recent seasons, too. The conference has also produced the last two national champions in Baylor (2021) and Kansas.

According to strength-of-schedule figures, the 10 teams in the country with the toughest remaining schedule to be played this season are the 10 schools from the Big 12.

After the last-place finish, Huggins brought in nine new players to turn things around, with six of those nine playing 12 or more minutes per game.

Yet a new roster is going through the same frustrations that last season’s team did.

“It’s different and similar,” said WVU guard Seth Wilson, who was a freshman on last season’s team. “I feel like this year, we’re a better team. We’re better, but last year and this year are coming down to the little things. We’re making mistakes that shouldn’t be made.”

WVU point guard Joe Toussaint, one of the nine new players, who spent three seasons playing at Iowa, also said the Mountaineers are getting hurt by the small details.

“At the end of the day, we have to be mentally sharp, and I feel that’s the part we have to get better at as a team,” Toussaint said. “We do that every game. We go on these mini runs and then somebody misses a defensive assignment or miss a block out, things that’s not right. We do the wrong things a lot of times. If we get to fixing that, we’ll be in a better position.”

TWEET @bigjax3211