Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

WVU in a pressure-free zone as it enters the Big 12 tournament

MORGANTOWN — It will be a pressure-free WVU team that takes the T-Mobile Center floor at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Kansas City, Mo. in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

It hasn’t felt like that for a while for the Mountaineers, who played the entire month of February trying to work its way off the bubble and into the NCAA tournament.

Along the way, the NCAA’s NET rankings and WVU’s strength of schedule was a strong topic of discussion, all of it used to bolster the Mountaineers’ argument when it seemed they had nothing else to fall back on.

And then WVU (18-13, 7-11 Big 12) just decided to go out and win, and, in its mind, erase all doubt.


“Right now, things are starting to click at the right time,” WVU forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. said. “We all want to win. We know what’s at stake. We’re looking forward to going to Kansas City and handling business.”

WVU finished its regular season by winning on the road against Iowa State and then knocking off then-No. 11 Kansas State on Senior Day.

The Mountaineers, the No. 8 seed in the Big 12, enter the Big 12 tournament having won three of their last four, with the one loss a two-point setback on the road against third-ranked Kansas.

Because of that, most NCAA bracket projections have WVU comfortably in the field of 68, regardless of what happens in Kansas City.

WVU guard Erik Stevenson would agree.

“We’re in,” Stevenson said. “If we’re not in, I don’t know what else to do. Who else do we got to beat? Do we got to play Joe Lunardi (ESPN bracketologist) one on one? There’s no more pressure (for the Big 12 tourney).”

The pressure, it would seem, is now all on Texas Tech (16-15, 5-13), the No. 9 seed.

On Sunday, the school suspended head coach Mark Adams, after it was discovered he made comments that were inappropriate and racially insensitive when addressing a player, according to Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt.

“Adams was encouraging the student-athlete to be more receptive to coaching and referenced Bible verses about workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters,” Hocutt said in a statement. “Adams immediately addressed this with the team and apologized.”

The Red Raiders’ second-year head coach will not be on the sidelines for the game and top assistant Corey Williams will take over in the interim. Williams was the head coach at Stetson for six seasons before moving on to Texas Tech.

WVU, too, has gone through its share of adversity. In January, the school fired top assistant Larry Harrison without cause.

Last week, Harrison signed a separation agreement with the school that will play him a sum of $360,553, plus incentives.

WVU also went through the first two months of the season expecting to have transfer guard Jose Perez cleared to play for the second half of the season, but the NCAA — and then a review panel — denied his request for immediate eligibility.

Throw in an 0-5 start to Big 12 play in the regular season and it’s easy to see why WVU played under enormous pressure late in the season.

As to what helped WVU get things turned around, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said it came down to the experience and maturity of his roster.

“We have six seniors, so that’s a lot of experience,” Huggins said. “It’s just a matter of getting them to understand what each one of those six can do.

“Why do we go to this guy in this situation or that guy in that situation? Our guys have been really good.”

And those guys are now in a position to play free of the pressure of being on the bubble.

A strong showing in the Big 12 tournament could help WVU move up in the NCAA seeding, but even that isn’t much of a thought for the players.

“That doesn’t matter,” Stevenson said. “We want to win as many games as we can, but it doesn’t matter.”


WHEN: 7 p.m., Wednesday
WHERE: T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Mo.
TV: ESPNU (Comcast 174, HD 853; DirecTV 208; DISH 141)

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