WVU with Plenty to Gain as Tournament Begins - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU with Plenty to Gain as Tournament Begins


A blog on ESPN.com this week stated that West Virginia was the team with the most to gain entering the Big 12 Conference Tournament.

This is hardly a surprise to anyone sporting the gold and blue.

The Mountaineers walk into the Sprint Center with their sights set on a championship, sure, but they have the added pressure of being likely the only group that can still make any difference to their NCAA Tournament hopes. According to most so-called "bracketologists," seven Big 12 teams will make the Big Dance. WVU is not among them, despite having a better conference record during the regular season.

"I haven't talked to them about it, but I'm sure they do know," head coach Bob Huggins said. "I'm sure they've been watching ESPN and Joey Brackets [ESPN's Joe Lunardi] and the whole deal, so I'm sure they know."

Of course, he is right. Whether Huggins has spoken with his squad about just what is at stake this week or not, the players are well aware that they likely need two wins to feel safe inside the 68 invited to play on the big stage.

The Mountaineers currently show the No. 83 RPI with just a 5-12 record against top 100 teams. There is certainly a good deal of work left to be done and it begins tonight with No. 3 seed Texas.

"We don't know exactly how many games it would take to get in, so our goal is just to win," said junior point guard Juwan Staten. "We feel like we definitely have a good chance to beat any team in this conference. We feel like right now, we're probably playing our best basketball."

Devin Williams will be a major part of whatever the outcome is against the Longhorns. In two tries this season, he has combined to score just four points and pull in three rebounds as Texas steamrolled the Mountaineers.

"We played them twice, so the nerves and the jitters should be out and we know what we should expect," Williams said on Wednesday. "They know our tendencies and we should know their tendencies. I think it really should come down to a couple of plays. Who's going to make those couple of plays at the end?"

Williams believes the key will be to come out aggressive like he did in WVU's win over No. 8 Kansas. If he can establish himself offensively in the early stages of the contest, he can help create for his teammates on the perimeter. The same can be said for the defensive side of the ball where Williams has a simple game plan that could be quite difficult to execute.

"Coach has said all the time, the best way to guard somebody is not letting them catch the ball," said Williams. "I'm going to try to do my work early and it's going to be a long night. It's a challenge and that was one of the reasons I came to West Virginia."

Sophomore guard Eron Harris says he has been in Williams' ear all week long since the Kansas game, making sure he understands that he is the "paint protector" and that his success will go a long way in determining how the team comes out of Kansas City.

In truth, the Mountaineers have struggled all season long with teams that have real size on the inside. That doesn't mean they are entering tonight's game with any less confidence.  

"We definitely know that they're big inside. That's something that we've kind of struggled with this year is teams with size," said Staten. "We have a great game plan. We've just got to neutralize their height with our speed, help a lot in the paint and make them make outside shots."

Yes, but that is more easily said than done. In Morgantown, Texas connected on nearly 53 percent of its shots, including 44 percent from 3-point range. Starting guards Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor combined for 29 points, while Martez Walker came off of the bench to add another 10.

Felix poured on 18 points when the two teams faced off in Austin with the Longhorns scoring on 58 percent of their shots. WVU, on the other hand, connected on less than 40 percent.

Maybe motivation can work some wonders for these Mountaineers, though. Looking at Baylor and Oklahoma State, the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds in the tournament and said to have a spot in the NCAAs, can push the sixth-seed Mountaineers to show why they are deserving of a place as well.

"We can definitely use that for motivation because these teams that are going to the NCAA Tournament are teams we've beaten," said Staten. "That lets us know that we're right there with any of those teams and up until this point, we haven't proven it, but we still have a great chance to prove it."

It is a game-by-game mentality at this point. This team believes in itself and what it can accomplish in a tournament setting. It begins tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET with the Longhorns.

"Every game from this point on is a tournament," said Harris. "Win, you go on. Lose, you go home. So let's play one game by one game from now on."

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