By Kyle Lovern
MORGANTOWN – The West Virginia University Mountaineer basketball team has made great strides in the last couple of weeks.
Just recently head coach Bob Huggins said the team was close to becoming a good team.
Monday night’s 102-77 blowout win over No. 11 Iowa State now has WVU fans thinking about a ticket to the big dance in March.
It’s the fourth win in five games for the greatly improving WVU squad.
Just a couple of weeks ago most Mountaineer fans did not think the team had a chance to make it to the NCAA tourney. Most thought even the NIT was a longshot.
But, not only did the Mountaineers handedly defeat the Cyclones, they also beat Oklahoma State, who was also ranked in the top 25. They also recently defeated Baylor on the road, a team that was previously ranked in the top 10 and owns a win over highly ranked Kentucky.
The Mounties went toe to toe with Kansas, one of the top five teams in the country, a team that arguably has two of the top lottery picks for the upcoming NBA draft in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid
Junior point guard Juwan Staten has continued to lead this squad and is one of the top players in the Big 12. Sophomore shooting guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson are starting to get more confident and consistent.
The inside games of young freshman Devin Williams, Nathan Adrian and Brandon Watkins have been steady and these youngsters are getting better.
Junior JUCO transfer Remi Dibo is giving Huggins quality minutes off the bench, as is junior guard Gary Browne.
Junior center Kevin Noreen continues to do the little things like set picks, get a key rebound and guard the other team’s top post player.
WVU is now 15-10 and 7-5 in the Big 12. Their strength of schedule is one of the top 50 in the country and the team’s RPI is climbing. WVU is now No. 66 in the RPI. ESPN tournament guru Joe Lunardi now has the Mountaineers mentioned. He doesn’t have them in the big dance, but at least we are now in the mix.
The rest of the regular season schedule is with tough and top-ranked Big 12 Conference teams. They play Texas on the road on Saturday night in prime time at 8 p.m. Then they host Baylor on Feb. 22 (1:30 pm), travel to Iowa State for a rematch with the Cyclones on Feb. 26 (8:00 pm), host TCU on March 1 (1:30 pm), March 5 at Oklahoma 9:00 pm and end the regular season on March 8 against Kansas in Morgantown at 12 noon.
Unlike last year’s squad, this team seems to play well together and get along. The chemistry is good. You see teammates cheering for each other while they’re on the bench.
Harris even went as far as committing a flagrant foul late in the game against Iowa State, but it was in defense of Noreen, who had gotten kicked in the stomach by an opposing player. (No call was made.)
The fans and students stormed the floor at the Coliseum to celebrate with the players as “Country Roads” rang out over the PA system.
This edition of the Mountaineer basketball team has given their diehard fans something to cheer about.
Perhaps the season may continue late into March and the team could be invited to the spring dance that everyone wants to attend.
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 33 or Twitter @KyleLovern)