MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Oklahoma State (8-5, 1-1 Big 12) isn’t eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament this year, but that doesn’t mean that the season is without purpose for the Cowboys.
Nor does it mean Tuesday’s late tip against them will be a walk in the park for West Virginia (12-2, 1-1 Big 12).
“They got about everybody back. They’re good. They’re really good,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said Monday. “[Isaac] Likekele hurt us a couple years ago, actually just took over the game. Both the Boone brothers have played really well against us. They’re as athletic as can be. They’re a really good team.”
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton Jr. has a roster that’s filled with 12 returning players from last season.
The Cowboys are coming off a 13-point home win over a nationally ranked Texas team Saturday. However, they, much like West Virginia, haven’t played a lot of games as of late.
OK State has faced just three opponents since Dec. 18. West Virginia has played just four games over the same time period.
Tuesday’s meeting between the two teams will be the 21st meeting all-time between the two programs. Each side has won ten games apiece.
“It hasn’t been one team dominating the other team. They’ve been great games,” said Huggins.
West Virginia won the first meeting between the two teams last season on the strength of three different Mountaineers scoring at least 20 points. Oklahoma State got the better of WVU in each of the next two meetings. Avery Anderson III scored a combined 48 points against the Mountaineers over a span of six days.
“We’ve had great games. The game in the conference tournament was a great game,” added the Mountaineer head coach.
Guards Anderson III and Bryce Williams lead Oklahoma State in scoring. Anderson III averages 11.6 points per game, while Williams adds 11.5 points per contest.
Anderson III and Likekele are the only two players on Boynton Jr.’s roster that have played in and started all 13 games played so far this year. Likekele is averaging 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest. Meanwhile, the two Boone brothers, Keylan and Kalib, combine to score 15.1 points per game.
“They’re good. They play really well together,” said Huggins. “I’ve watched them play several times. They play really hard.”
Boynton is in his fifth season in charge of Oklahoma State, but is coaching a Cowboys team that is without NCAA Tournament aspirations after it was banned from the 2022 postseason. That ruling, which came down in November 2021, was the result of a long appeal process after the NCAA’s original ruling in 2020.
Despite the lack of postseason motivation, Huggins respects what Boynton has done with his team this season.
“He’s done a terrific job. But I didn’t expect him not to,” Huggins said. “He’s got a bunch of guys that have been there for a while that are loyal.”
West Virginia has played in the postseason in 12 of the 13 years that postseason tournaments have been held during Huggins’ tenure.
Asked what it would be like coaching a team that knows before the season starts they wouldn’t be playing past the conference tournament, Huggins said it would be difficult.
“I think it would really be hard, but I think you appeal to their pride,” said Huggins, who has won 34 NCAA Tournament games during his career. “Everybody who plays at this level wants to continue to play somewhere. So, you have to have a resume to be able to go play somewhere.”
WVU’s leading scorer, Taz Sherman, returned to action in Saturday’s win over Kansas State. Sherman (20.4 ppg) and Sean McNeil (14.8 ppg) are two of the top seven scorers in the Big 12 Conference.
Tipoff between West Virginia and Oklahoma State is scheduled for Tuesday at 9 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The game will be televised on ESPNU.