Last three games big for WVU

With only two games remaining in the regular season, West Virginia’s men’s basketball team still has a lot remaining for which to play – unlike its first season in the Big 12.

At 8-8 in league play, the Mountaineers presently hold down the No. 6 seed in the upcoming Phillips 66/Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championships to played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Those final two contests are anything but givens as the old gold and blue first must travel to face an Oklahoma squad (21-8, 10-6 Big 12) that is locked in a four-way tie for the No. 2 seed.

WVU closes out its regular season in the Coliseum when regular season champion Kansas (22-7, 13-3 Big 12) comes to visit.

A pair of victories would lock up the No. 6 seed and give WVU a bye in the first round – something it did not enjoy a year ago when the Mountaineers were a ‘one-and-done’ entrant in postseason play.

A split could still allow WVU to finish in the 10-team league’s top six, but could allow either Baylor (19-10, 7-9 Big 12) or Oklahoma State (19-10, 7-9 Big 12) to snatch that spot away from WVU and push it as far as the No. 8 seed and put it in a situation where, not only would it play on the opening night of the four-day tournament, but pitting them against the Jayhawks in one of the four quarterfinal matchups on Thursday, March 13.

But Bob Huggins’ team still holds a paper-thin chance of returning to the NCAA tournament. A three-game winning streak would be an impressive resume-builder for a committee looking for any team other than those in the ‘so-called’ Mid-Majors to fill their national championship tournament.

The task is a difficult one, but, it is not impossible.

Oklahoma needed overtime to dispatch of the Mountaineers in Morgantown (91-86) on Feb. 5, and WVU played well, at times, in dropping an 83-69 decision at Kansas three days later.

A healthy Terry Henderson, who has missed the last several games, would help, but more consistent play, offensively and defensively, from WVU’s ‘bigs’ will be the key.

Junior Juwan Staten and sophomore Eron Harris have proven time and time again that they are among the Big 12’s top players, a fact that should be supported when the conference releases its all-Big 12 selections later this month.

Harris scored a game-high 28 points in the five-point overtime loss to the Sooners and Staten chipped in 20 and had six assists. However, WVU’s starting forwards – Remi Debo and Devin Williams – combined for only 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Of course, the postseason hopes of the Mountaineers won’t end completely with a pair of losses to close out the regular season and an early exit from the tourney as 16 wins – half coming in one of the toughest conferences in the country – and the ability to draw a huge crowd at home makes WVU a very tasty tidbit for the NIT.

Contact Jim Butta at jbutta@newsandsentinel.com