WVU Basketball Begins Big 12 Play
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The season within the season begins Wednesday night for West Virginia’s men’s basketball team and it couldn’t ask for much more of challenge than if the Golden State Warriors themselves were coming to town. Texas Tech, off to a great start, invades for 7:00 p.m. tip in a game carried on ESPNU.
This is what WVU’s young and often-injured Mountaineers have been preparing for through an 8-4 preseason during which they showed some improvement, but hardly the kind you expect to be able to beat the nation’s No. 11 team. The Red Raiders are now regarded as a real threat to Kansas’ streak of 14 consecutive league titles.
Coming into the season the Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the conference, but teamrankings.com now ranks them second in the league with 21.6 percent chance to win it all.
The Red Raiders of Chris Beard, one of the rising young coaches in the game, are off to an 11-1 start with the only loss being a tough 69-58 loss to Duke at Madison Square Garden.
This is a Texas Tech team built on defense and has a multi-talented star in sophomore forward Jarrett Culver, a 6-5, 195-pounder who averages 19.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
How good is this team defensively?
Texas Tech leads the nation by limiting opponents to 32.8 percent shooting from the field and is second nationally by holding the opposition to 52.3 points per game and 24.4 percent shooting on 3-pointers.
Despite their strong start, with all 11 victories by double figures, they are taking nothing for granted coming into Morgantown.
“They have good players and a Hall of Fame coach,” Beard said. “With the conference season, it’s back to 0-0. That’s what I’m trying to get the guys to understand.
“Everything you’ve done to this point is basically just for preparation. It’s 0-0 Texas Tech at 0-0 West Virginia. It’s a new season and for teams that have played well, it really doesn’t mean anything. Teams that may not have played their best have a new beginning. It’s unique to college basketball with Wednesday being a new opportunity for all of us.”
And that includes WVU, which had to battle to keep the season from slipping away. After a difficult loss to swallow against Rhode Island, they played down a level against Jacksonville State and barely escaped with a two-point victory.
A win over Lehigh, which did not come easily, does give the Mountaineers a two-game win streak to build upon heading into Big 12 play.
But there still remains the major problem of Sagaba Konate’s injured knee that has the league’s best shot-blocker and WVU’s main inside force on crutches with his return uncertain.
There are a number of positives, however, that could be signifying a resurgence for the Mountaineers.
First guard Beetle Bolden is finally “healthy”, the quotation marks being because he plays so hard and gets banged ‘round so much that he never is completely healthy. But he is coming off a solid game in which he scored 22 points against Lehigh while hitting half his field goals and adding five assists.
“I think he is the healthiest he has been all year,” coach Bob Huggins said.
Huggins has decided to try and use others at point guard as much as he could to take advantage of Bolden’s shooting.
Another sign of progress was Esa Ahmad responding to being exiled the bench for most of the Jacksonville State game, scoring 21 points and nine rebounds against Lehigh.
WVU needs those veteran players to be at the forefront of anything they do if they are going to have a solid season.
The one other boost they received came from freshman big man Derek Culver, who had a double-double in just his second college game and, while very raw, showed the kind of ability that could allow him to advance rapidly and help fill the void created by Kontate’s absence.
“We just have to get him to understand,” Huggins said after the Lehigh game. “He made some dumb plays. You have to understand about getting people off balance. You have to understand when you look at the tape and you try to figure out who you can get up in the air and get under to get the foul line.”