By Cam Huffman
The last three games have greatly changed the fortunes of the West Virginia University basketball team.
Listed as one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament in Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology” on ESPN after a 102-77 thrashing of No. 11 Iowa State on Feb. 10, the Mountaineers are nowhere to be found on Lunardi’s most recent list — not even in among the eight teams on the outside looking in — after a three-game losing streak.
But there’s still plenty of motivation left for WVU (15-13, 7-8 Big 12) as it approaches the final three games of the regular season, beginning today at home against TCU.
The NCAA hopes are slim at this point, but there’s still a chance. With games at Oklahoma (No. 25 RPI) and at home against Kansas (No. 1 RPI) left on the schedule, there’s still a chance to greatly improve the resumé, and there will likely be other quality opponents ahead in the Big 12 tournament.
A winning record in the No. 1 RPI conference in the country, Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins believes, would be difficult to ignore.
The more immediate focus, though, is on the Big 12 standings, where the Mountaineers currently sit sixth, a game ahead of Baylor and Oklahoma State. That sixth spot is a valuable one, considering the top six teams will get byes in the 10-team Big 12 tournament.
Any late run for WVU has to begin with a win today against the conference’s bottom team. TCU (9-18, 0-15 Big 12) will bring a 16-game Big 12 losing streak to Morgantown for today’s 1:30 p.m. tip. The Horned Frogs are 2-31 in Big 12 play since joining the league prior to the 2012-13 season.
That doesn’t mean head coach Trent Johnson’s club hasn’t been competitive. When the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs got together in Fort Worth, Texas on Jan. 4, WVU had to hold on for dear life down the stretch to claim a 74-69 win. TCU lost to then-No. 25 Oklahoma by just nine in late January and came within five points of upsetting then No. 15 Texas on Feb. 4.
Kyan Anderson is the Horned Frog’s top offensive threat. The junior guard is averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 assists per game, both team highs. Junior forward Amric Fields is averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds.
“They try to control the game with their offense, and Anderson’s very good,” said Huggins. “They try to keep in manageable.”
There are clearly some problems with the TCU team, however, including scoring the basketball, where it ranks dead last in the Big 12 with 63.9 points per game. That could be a welcome break for a WVU team that’s next-to-last in scoring defense, allowing nearly 74 points per outing, including more than 80 in each of its last three games.
TCU is also last in rebounding, another area that has hurt the Mountaineers this season.
Already thin as far as quality depth, WVU will play its third straight game without sophomore guard Terry Henderson, who is out with an undisclosed illness.
The bulk of the offense will have to come from Juwan State and Eron Harris, who rank second and third in the conference in points per game. Staten, a junior point guard, is averaging 18.1 points per game and leads the league with 5.96 assists per contest. Harris, a sophomore guard, is averaging 18 points per outing and is third in the Big 12 with 77 made 3-pointers this season.
“We’re still playing with a lot of effort,” said Huggins. “That hasn’t really been a problem. We’re just a little short handed, and we have to make shots and play better on the defensive end.”
Today’s game will be broadcast live on ROOT Sports.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.