Strong start a sign of things to come - The Daily Athenaeum: Sports

Strong start a sign of things to come

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 1:11 am

The West Virginia men’s basketball team is off to their best mark in conference play since the 2009-10 Final Four run.

Now, I realize this 2-0 mark were two close wins over two subpar Big 12 teams in TCU and Texas Tech, but I feel something special brewing with this team.

Maybe not exactly in this season, but in the near future, this team could most definitely make an impact.

For starters, I believe this team is good enough to make the NIT. Against quality opponents, WVU simply hasn’t been able to get over the hump just yet, even if it’s been close in a lot of those games.

Close doesn’t always cut it though, right? WVU has a chance to really get its first high-quality win over an Oklahoma State team that recently lost to Kansas State on the road.

A top name in Marcus Smart will look to get the Cowboys back in the top-10 hunt, and OSU will look to get back to the top in the Big 12 standings.

West Virginia desperately needs this win over Oklahoma State. While Missouri, Wisconsin and Gonzaga were all respectable losses, the team was certainly capable of beating Purdue and Virginia Tech this season.

The team has matured since those losses, however. Head coach Bob Huggins’ group is riding a three-game winning streak into this weekend and the crucial game inside the Coliseum.

The Big 12 is on a different level in terms of quality competition this season.

Iowa State has started 14-0 and is in the Associated Press Top 10, Baylor came into the week at No.7, Oklahoma State is right outside the Top 10, and both Kansas and Kansas State are in the Top 25. That’s five teams currently in the AP Top 25.

Just two nights ago Iowa State proved its worth by defeating Baylor at home.

Texas has defeated North Carolina this season, while Kansas State beat Georgetown and Gonzaga earlier in the year.

Baylor played current No. 2 Syracuse tough and defeated then-No. 3 Kentucky.

My point is simple. The Big 12 is way deeper this season than in years past. West Virginia still has its chance at quality wins, and it all starts with the biggest game of the season Saturday inside the WVU Coliseum.

West Virginia, perhaps playing its best basketball of the season, has shown signs of excellence on both offense and defense.

There are capable playmakers on the team this season, and the shooting has been much better than in 2012-13.

You can tell this team cares and works hard, and perhaps that’s been the biggest improvement from the 2012-13 team that went just 13-19 on the season.

While WVU has been playing good basketball, let’s not forget: the wins they’ve had aren’t marquee wins needed to make the Big Dance.

Saturday’s game marks a new journey for this team. Oklahoma State ranks in the Top 15 in field goal percentage and in points per game. The losses to then-No. 21 Memphis and Kansas State weren’t anything short of being outplayed.

Saturday’s game will be a key moment in West Virginia’s effort to really implement its mark as an above average – or even good – team this season.

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