MORGANTOWN — There wasn’t just one big bang, but rather a long and drawn-out series of pops that created the strength that is seen in the Big 12 men’s basketball conference this season.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins had no doubts the Mountaineers were moving into a football league back in 2012 — when WVU switched allegiances from the Big East to the Big 12 — but today, he is part of a basketball league that “has no bottom,” he says.
Or, as WVU guard Erik Stevenson puts it, today’s noon battle against Texas Tech — two schools in the bottom third of the Big 12 standings — would hold significant meaning if the two schools were in any other conference.
“This league is legit,” Stevenson began. “Like, Pitt is the leader in the ACC right now. We’d go in the ACC right now and win it by five games, there’s no question about it. There’s nobody in that league that could play in our league, maybe Miami.
“You could put Texas Tech, Oklahoma and us and Oklahoma State in any other league and we’d probably be in the top four with maybe the exception of the SEC and Big Ten, because they’re so top heavy.”
To both points, Texas Tech, which is tied with Oklahoma for last place in the Big 12, is coming off a 74-67 victory against Texas, which is tied for first in the conference.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Stevenson said.
There are other examples. Oklahoma — also tied for last in the Big 12 — took out then-No. 2 Alabama by 24 points earlier this season.
It’s with that in mind the Mountaineers realize there is more to Saturday’s noon game than just trying to stay out of the conference’s cellar.
Rather it’s a game that holds real implications toward a journey WVU (15-11, 4-9 Big 12) hopes ends with a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I’ve been saying that to guys on the team now, like let’s get in the tournament and then play someone that’s not in (the Big 12),” Stevenson said. “We’ve fared pretty well against teams not in our league.
“Purdue and Xavier obviously got us, but I feel real confident in playing any other team in any other league.”
To that end, Texas Tech (14-12, 3-10) also has to believe that it is in some sort of late-season survival mode and could also make a run for the postseason that would be bolstered with a road win against the Mountaineers.
The Red Raiders have won four of their last six, including three wins against teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll.
“They’ve won some games and they’re playing with a lot more confidence,” Huggins said. “They’re really driving the ball. They’re doing a good job of driving the ball.”
What’s different the second time around — WVU went into Lubbock, Texas last month and won by 15 — is the Red Raiders will have 6-foot-11 center Fardaws Aimaq available this time around.
Aimaq was one of the most sought-after transfers last summer — in fact, Huggins said the Mountaineers had taken an interest in him.
Due to a foot injury, Aimaq has only played in five games, but he had 12 points and five rebounds in the Red Raiders’ upset of Texas on Monday.
“Aimaq is obviously older and has played well in other leagues,” Stevenson said. “It might take a couple of possessions to figure out how he likes to guard defensively, but we’re going to try and figure it out and win the game.”
TEXAS TECH at WVU
WHEN: Noon, Saturday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPNU (Comcast 174, HD 853; DirecTV 208; DISH 141)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM