West Virginia Snubbed in Early Big 12 Power Rankings
Sports Illustrated’s Michael Shapiro put together basketball power rankings for the Big 12 Conference. It might be said every year but, on the surface, the Big 12 will arguably be the toughest to navigate through in the upcoming season.
3. Texas Tech
5. West Virginia
7. Iowa State
8. Oklahoma State
10. Kansas State
Shapiro put Baylor as the early frontrunner with the thought that leading scorer Jared Butler will withdraw from the 2020 NBA Draft. However, even with that assumption, it is hard to not put Kansas at the top spot considering they’ve won 17 out of the last 19 regular-season Big 12 titles, including last season's impressive 17-1 record. Although, he does make a somewhat persuasive argument that the allegations against head coach Bill Self in Kansas may have its effects (Like Bill Self being ousted at Kansas) but that’s yet to be seen as he has them at number two.
As for West Virginia, they sit at number five. While I think that is too low and would look more like they'll be competing for the top three spots, it will depend on what happens with Butler and Kansas before the season starts, but having Texas Tech and Texas in front of them seems a little off.
For starters, Tech has to replace both of their leading scorers Jahmius Ramsey and David Moretti, and while I agree head coach Chris Beard will undoubtedly have his team ready to compete at a high level, having to replace the teams top production back-to-back seasons will take its toll and see them dropping out of the top four.
Now, the four-spot is a bit of a head-scratcher. Texas sitting there seems a bit optimistic considering they have missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. However, a five-game winning streak before losing the season finale to Oklahoma State (another team that ended the season hot) should have fans in Austin optimistic especially with the addition of SI All-American Greg Brown.
But, with the same logic Shapiro uses for Texas Tech, I’ll throw towards West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. He turned a 15 win team into 21 wins. While on the surface, six wins is not that big of a jump, but with youth, and the dysfunction from the previous season, that in itself was a Hall of Fame performance.
That brings us to this year’s edition of the Mountaineer basketball team. West Virginia is the only program within the conference to return most of the production for last season and although their bugaboo was on the road, they’ll have to prove they can find consistency on opponents’ home floor. They did capture a road win late in the season at Iowa State, but it was against a 12-20 Cyclone team, and maybe they got over that mental hurdle, but it’s a wait and see, nonetheless. It is hard to imagine that West Virginia won’t be considered as one of the contenders in the Big 12, then again, the Mountaineers generally don’t get a lot of love from the Big 12 media.
Undoubtedly, West Virginia has the best frontcourt in the conference with the return of team-leading scorers Oscar Tshiebwe (11.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Derek Culver (10.4 ppg, 8.6rpg), but the success will rely on the consistency of the guards. Jordan McCabe will head into his junior season with a full regular season under his belt as a point guard along with sophomore Miles “Deuce” McBride. Add guards Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman along with the X-factor, small forward Emmitt Matthews Jr., it may be hard not to consider them a frontrunner.
Albeit, I’m not that optimistic. Despite West Virginia manhandling Baylor to end the regular season and seemingly turning a corner, it was at home and the abrupt end to the season due to COVID-19 left unanswered questions on how far the team had come after losing six of seven games before the final two wins of the seasons. I for one, had West Virginia losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year and agree with Shapiro, as of right now, this is a Sweet 16 team.
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