MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Like the weather outside in West Virginia, the past two games for the WVU men’s basketball team have been gloomy. The latest AP poll had the Mountaineers at 18th this week, after back- to- back losses to unranked Oklahoma and Kansas State, falling eleven spots from last week when the Mountaineers found themselves in the Top 10.
Tonight, No.2 in the AP poll, the Kansas Jayhawks, bring their national player of the year candidate and Big 12’s top scorer Frank Mason to the Coliseum. Bill Self and his Jayhawks are on an 18- game win streak and are also tied for the nation’s longest active streak. However, the most important stat or record for Mountaineer fans if you are looking for a little positivity, is the fact that Big 12’s darling Jayhawks have lost three straight in Morgantown.
Last year, Kansas came into the Coliseum as the top team in the nation, only to fall 74-63 after a ton of mistakes forced by the relentless efforts of Press Virginia. Frank Mason had a career worst seven turnovers, and the Jayhawks seemed doomed from the opening tip off. If the Mountaineers want to pull the upset, they’ll need to get back to Press Virginia.
The Mountaineers finished a combined minus eleven in turnover-margin against the Sooners and Wildcats; uncharted territory for the number one turnover-margin team in the country. If you look at their other three losses this season, the Mountaineers forced 44 turnovers while committing 43 of their own, that simply just won’t get it done, and Bob Huggins agrees.
“Our ball pressure isn’t what it was and we’re not closing traps the way we were. You want to make ball handlers more worried about you than they are about where they’re going to throw the ball.”
It is no secret this team thrives off turnovers that lead to transition baskets. Look at the games in the win column- WVU owned the turnover margin forcing 381 turnovers, an average of 25 turnover per contest. That is the Press Virginia we know and the one that needs to return tonight.
“Hey Brandon, what about the free throw percentage?” I get it, I get asked that question on the show, and on social media. “If WVU only shot better from the free throw line, the Mountaineers would of won those games,” say many disgruntled Mountaineer fans.
Yes and no. Against Kansas State, WVU shot a season best of 88 percent from the free throw line including 90 percent in the first half. Again, look at turnover-margin for reference. Free throws are important, but again if you look at all four losses this season, WVU didn’t dominate the turnover-margin. It’s not rocket science; it’s just Press Virginia-tology. Ok, I made that part up.
The main key is simple, just get back to Press Virginia. Kansas brings in a load of great guard play, but that is the life of the Big 12, night in and night out. Although some of the best guards in the country are on the court in the Big 12, they have a tough time when Press Virginia is at its best. So, Mountaineer fans, get ready to put on your Gold and Blue, grab a beverage and cheer on your Mountaineers because tonight fans hope is the return of Press Virginia.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS