WVU Basketball

What the Big 12 is saying about the Mountaineers' improbable run

Next up: WVU vs. Kansas in Big 12 semis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - WVU men’s basketball is the first No. 10-seed in the Big 12 semifinals since 1998. It’s a run few could have anticipated after the Mountaineers’ struggles in the regular season. 

Junior guard Chase Harler said it’s only been possible because his teammates have finally bought in to head coach Bob Huggins’ philosophy. 

“From the beginning of the year, just giving up lay-up after lay-up and uncontested shots — almost looking like we didn’t care out there — to where we are now, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” said Harler. 

The Mountaineers will play three-seed Kansas tonight in their fourth-straight Big 12 semifinal appearance. It’s a rematch of last year’s conference championship game, which Kansas won 81-70.

To reach this point, West Virginia pulled off two upsets. The first, a one-point win over Oklahoma, whcih required a video review after time expired to send the Mountaineers to the quarterfinals. 

Then, Huggins’ squad shocked two-seed and regular season co-champion Texas Tech by jumping out to an early 17-point lead and holding off a late Red Raider charge.

Texas Tech swept WVU in the regular season, but Big 12 coach of the year Chris Beard said it’s clear the Mountaineers have “a chemistry” now that they didn’t have when the Raiders thumped them by 31 in Lubbock. 

“West Virginia is playing loose right now,” said Beard. “They are playing with a lot of confidence. There’s a joy to their team. I watched them play last night in person, and I told our guys I think this is one of the hottest teams in college basketball. It wouldn’t surprise me if they won this tournament.” 

Kansas coach Bill Self knows from experience that the Mountaineers are capable of major upsets. 

Prior to the postseason, WVU’s most exciting win of the season came at the hands of the then-No. 7 Jayhawks: a last-second, 65-64 Mountaineer victory that sent fans into a frenzy on the Coliseum floor. 

About a month later, West Virginia reached a low-point in a 78-53 loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence. That game was the team’s first after the dismissals of Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris. 

Self expects a much different performance from WVU in the semifinals. 

“Every team goes through ebbs and flows and ups and downs, but the team I watched play [against Texas Tech] is hungry,” said Self. “They're playing with a free mind. The basket looks big to them and certainly they're rebounding the ball like Huggins' teams have historically done at West Virginia. Forget about the records when Kansas and West Virginia play. You usually get your money's worth as a game, and I'm sure it will be that way tomorrow night as well.”

Freshman guard Jordan McCabe has been saying something similar for weeks: West Virginia is a completely different team than it was in February.

“We kept saying it, kept saying it, and really, we won two games in that second half of conference play, and people are like, are they really a different team? We [showed it],” said McCabe. “Our fortitude mentally, our mental toughness and ability to just be resilient enough to pull out a win.”

The upset win over Texas Tech is proof of how far this team has come. It’s impressive, but to Harler, it’s not enough. 

“We’ve not gonna be done yet,” said Harler. “We’re going to try to win [against Kansas] and continue to build off this.” 

The Mountaineers and Jayhawks are scheduled to tip-off aroung 9:30 ET. 

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