The first March write-up feels so good. Selection Sunday is in eight days, the regular season ends for everybody tomorrow and either Murray State or Belmont will punch the first ticket to the Big Dance tonight with three more coming tomorrow in the Atlantic Sun, Big Ten and Missouri Valley.
I’m going to write about a fair share of college hoops this month, as this is my favorite time of year on the sports calendar. I’ll give you tips about what teams I like now, later and, eventually, to get all the way to the Final Four and win the National Championship.
For now, I’m starting this month with a rare play on a road favorite down in Austin, Texas, where West Virginia closes its season against the Longhorns.
It may not last, but West Virginia is being overlooked by the general public as we roll into March. The Mountaineers were highly-ranked to start the season, lost their first game — the very first game of the college basketball season, in Germany at a US air base — against Texas A&M and then ripped off 15 wins in a row, including the first two of conference play.
By that time, West Virginia was, I believe, #2 in the country and that didn’t feel too high or as if the Mountaineers were playing with their heads above the water. In fact, its second-leading scorer and rebounder from the season before, Esa Ahmad, hadn’t even seen the floor yet.
Ahmad came back and the Mountaineers lost five of six. The first was a two-point loss at Texas Tech. Then they started well against Kansas and completely lost it in the second half to see KU run away on their home floor. Mistakes compounded and two tough losses turned into that ugly stretch.
The only win in the six games came at home against Texas by 35. The Mountaineers dominated the boards (+16) and forced Texas into 15 turnovers.
Eventually, West Virginia turned things around, as teams of its caliber do. Its only losses since came against Oklahoma State and Kansas and Ahmad has looked like the player he was last season in his last three games: 33 minutes in each and and average of about 15 points, 9 rebounds.
If you take that six-game stretch out of West Virginia’s resume, it is 21–3. That stretch can’t be ignored but it can be taken into context and I believe the team is passed it, yet it continues to weigh heavily on WVU’s resume.
Anyway, I’m buying West Virginia in the postseason as of right now and I’m buying it on noon Saturday against Texas. Mo Bamba is out for the Longhorns. He had 13 of Texas’ 29 rebounds in the first matchup and blocked four shots. If the Longhorns couldn’t keep West Virginia off the glass with Bamba putting up those numbers, it’s going to be ugly without him in there.
Keep an eye on West Virginia, just don’t tell your friends.
Play: West Virginia -5