Is it Time to Hit the Panic Button for West Virginia?
On Wednesday night, we saw the Mountaineers squander another big opportunity to boost their NCAA Tournament resume as they blew an 11 point lead to the visiting Kansas Jayhawks. Losing to Kansas is not alarming and potentially losing to Baylor is also not alarming. Those are two quality teams that will battle for the Big 12 crown and are legit threats to reach a Final Four.
What is alarming is the body language, confidence and lack of discipline West Virginia has put on display the last couple of weeks. This team has not responded well to adversity and everyone can see that. The second Kansas took the lead early in the second half, you could see it written across their faces, the old "oh crap it just got real" look. Not only did West Virginia have a double-digit lead on the nation's third ranked team, but they had them on the ropes, several times. Now, much of that was in the first half, but they couldn't stretch the lead out. Missed shots, bad feeds underneath, errant passes, bad shot selection and unwillingness to pass the ball are all factors into what went wrong on the offensive end of the floor. Unfortunately, this is not the first occasion, yet it has become the team's identity.
Earlier this season, West Virginia struggled against Akron and Northern Colorado- both are playing good basketball and could punch a ticket to the big dance. However, those two teams have no where near the talent West Virginia does. Northern Iowa, Rhode Island and Youngstown State all gave the Mountaineers fits as well.
You may not want to hear it, but the biggest contributing factor to this team going through its severe ups and downs is strictly due to lack of experience. I know it always seems like its "another one or two years away" from the team being in a legitimate spot to make a run, but it's the truth. With the exception of Oscar Tshiebwe, none of these young freshmen and sophomores are the same caliber of guys that Kentucky, Duke or other blue bloods bring in on a yearly basis. Those guys usually figure things out pretty quick and don't need to have years of experience to be successful consistently. It is completely normal for a team that ranks dead last in the Power Five and 300th in the country in experience to go through the things this group is going through. Also, don't forget that this team went 15-21 just a year ago. Yes, many of the guys from last year's group are gone, but the ones who returned are really in their first full year of an expanded role. For West Virginia to be sitting at 18-6 is pretty damn remarkable, considering the facts. They've found ways to win games and beat teams that are really good, all while trying to figure themselves out.
So I guess the main point I am trying to get across here is, it's not time to hit that panic button just yet. This Saturday, the Mountaineers will travel to Waco to take on the number one team in the country - the Baylor Bears. Should they lose that game, everything is still in play. Most teams in the country are going to find themselves going 0-2 when playing Kansas and Baylor back-to-back. Now, if West Virginia can't find a way to beat Texas, TCU and Iowa State on the road, then it might be time to start panicking. Once again, even if this season turns into the Mountaineers sliding out of the top 25 and making a six or seven seed in the NCAA Tournament, it's not the end of the world. Just remember where this team was just a short year ago and be thankful that they're at least not going to play in some tournament called the CBI.
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