The postseason is finally upon us, so it’s time to examine just how far this West Virginia team can go and what needs to be done in order to maximize its potential.
West Virginia has shown plenty of promise. After a season-opening — and very disappointing — loss to Texas A&M in Germany, WVU riled off 15 straight wins and was on top of the world, or at least very close to it.
WVU climbed as high up as No. 2 in the AP Poll, marking the highest ranking the program has seen since 1959, back when Jerry West was tearing up college basketball at Stansbury Hall, before West became an NBA Hall of Famer and won an NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers.
During that time, WVU beat No. 15 Virginia. It held star sophomore guard Kyle Guy in check in the first half before he finally got into a bit of a rhythm in the second half, fighting his way through screens for uncontested threes.
Then WVU would beat potential Wooden Award winner Trae Young and the then-No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners. Young still scored 29 points, right at his season average, but it took 22 shots to do that. He also made just three of his 12 three-point attempts.
Adding to that impressive win was the fact that WVU held Young to five assists and eight turnovers, with the five assists tying a season-low at the time. Young would later record a season-low one assist in the second meeting against WVU, which was another Mountaineer victory.
Needless to say, this WVU team has shown what it’s made of. When you go 15-1, win 15 straight games, shutdown college basketball’s top player and become the No. 2 team in the country, you definitely are a very good basketball team.
But WVU has also struggled. Second half leads have come and gone on so many occasions. The No. 2 national ranking is now No. 20. And WVU just finished the regular season at 22-9 overall, going 7-8 since compiling that impressive 15-1 mark earlier this year.
So, what does WVU need to do to achieve its full potential and go as far as it can in the postseason, starting with this week’s Big 12 Tournament, followed by the NCAA Tournament?
1. Play a full 40 minutes: This point can’t be stressed enough. If WVU holds a few more leads, it likely wins the Big 12 regular season title, gets the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and ends Kansas’ ridiculous run at the top of the conference. Instead, it is now in third place, with a lot of those blown second half leads paving the way to this spot. There were the two double-digit leads squandered against Big 12 regular season champion Kansas. There was the blown lead at Texas Tech in the second half. There was the botched final minute against Oklahoma State. There was the seven-point lead that vanished at TCU. And, of course, the 17-point lead that slipped away against Kentucky. If WVU cannot let second half leads disappear, then it can easily make a run in the postseason. Look at the first meeting between Texas (it won that game, 86-51) and the second meeting versus Kansas State (it won that game, 89-51) as prime indicators of how to play.
2. Get Teddy Allen going: When freshman forward Teddy Allen was going in the first half of the year, so were the Mountaineers. Allen put forth scoring outputs of 15, 22 and 20 points during the first three Big 12 games, hitting 71 percent of his shots in that span. He was scoring in bunches off the bench and seemed to be on top of the world, just like his WVU team. Then he went into a funk, just like his WVU team. Since then, he has been held scoreless six times, not appeared in two other games and scored 10-plus points twice. If Allen can regain his form and play with the same aggressiveness we saw earlier this season, that will pay huge dividends for this team.
3. Production from the seniors: There is no question that how senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. lead the way. Sure, Miles might not be the second best player on the team, but he is definitely one of the leaders (that nod goes to sophomore forward Sagaba Konate right now, and that is not at all anything against the talented 1,000-point scorer in Miles). Just look at how the two fared on Senior Night against Texas Tech. They combined for 39 points and 11 assists, lifting WVU to a big win at the Coliseum last Monday. When those two are doing things on both ends of the floor, this is a hard to team to beat. There is no other program in college basketball that has the experience and pedigree that Carter and Miles bring to the WVU backcourt. Both have scored more than 1,000 points in their careers, played in two Big 12 Championships so far, three NCAA Tournaments to this point and two Sweet 16s. And Carter is also the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award, not to mention the fact he just became the first player in Power 5 history to reach 1,500 points, 500 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals in a career.
4. Energy: The perfect game I look for in this category is last Monday against Texas Tech. It reminded me of last year’s win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament when WVU got off to a rapid 10-0 start and never looked back en route to a Sweet 16 berth. In this Texas Tech game the vibe was eerily different at the Coliseum. WVU was dunking. It was hitting shots. And it was playing defense. That’s how WVU piled on a ridiculous 16-0 run to begin the game before winning 84-74.
5. Offense: We know how important defense has been to this program since the 2014-15 season, but when the offense is clicking like the defense, WVU is nearly impossible to beat. WVU is 5-1 when it hits more than 50 percent of its shots, with the only loss coming when it mishandled the final few possessions in the 88-85 loss to Oklahoma State last month.