One of the toughest stretches in West Virginia men’s basketball history is about to begin in the month of February — and it all starts when the Mountaineers tip off against No. 23 Kansas at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday at 2 p.m. on CBS.
After facing the Jayhawks, the Mountaineers (12-5, 5-3 Big 12) will move on to another five straight ranked clashes, against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor (twice) and Texas. For Bob Huggins, though, he’s just focused on the task at hand.
“We haven’t thought about anything other than Kansas,” he said. “We’ll worry about what comes next when that happens.”
This tough stretch of games comes at a bit of a crossroads for the Mountaineers, as Bob Huggins has been outspoken about the team’s lackluster defense. They’ve let up an average of 81.3 points in their last three games — including nearly losing a 15-point lead to Iowa State, a team that’s winless in the conference.
Huggins has apparently let his team know of these struggles, as he says it’s a matter of heart and mentality.
“At the start of the month, we all were saying it’s gonna look like we’re gonna have almost the whole Big 12 in the top 25, and we were looking at that, and as a team, we are saying this is our chance,” said guard Deuce McBride. “Huggs thinks we’re a terrible defensive team and we’re gonna have the chance to show what we’re capable of this month.”
Although he’s the team’s leading scorer, McBride has hit a road bump over the last few games. After a 24-point performance and a game-winner against Texas Tech on Jan. 25, he finished the last two contests with nine points each, and without a three-pointer.
There have been plenty of other guards to pick that slack up, however, like Taz Sherman, who led WVU with 19 points against Iowa State, and Sean McNeil, who scored 21 against Florida.
Star big man Derek Culver is the clear centerpiece for WVU’s inside game, averaging a double-double — but he could have his hands full with Kansas’s David McCormack, who Huggins says is the biggest change since WVU’s first meeting with Kansas.
Since that 79-65 loss for the Mountaineers, he has averaged 15.7 points per game and notched a pair of double-doubles — a massive improvement from the opening months of the season.
“I’ve never seen a guy get better that fast, and he’s a heck of a threat for him now, and they’re really looking to throw him the ball,” Huggins said.
McCormack is flanked by several talented players, which is typical of the Jayhawks. He is flanked by a pair of double-digit scorers in guard Ochai Agbaji and forward Jalen Wilson, while several other players are lethal threats that can take over the game as well.
That, Huggins says, is one of the best attributes for Coach Bill Self.
“I mean he substitutes a McDonald’s All-American for a McDonald’s All-American,” he said. “They’re talented. They’ve been as talented a teams as there has been in college basketball for quite a while. And Bill’s a good coach, he’s a very good coach, but I think it’s easier to coach really good players than it is to coach guys that aren’t as good players.”
The Mountaineers and the Jayhawks tip off Saturday at 2 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The game will be shown on CBS.