KANSAS CITY, Mo.–It has been a strange season for the West Virginia Mountaineers (24-7, 12-6 Big 12).
At times, they have looked like the nation’s top program with no flaws whatsoever and other times it was a legit thought if they could defeat Morgantown High School.
For some fans, this season may very well be labeled great and not a lot of people could dispute that. After all, the Mountaineers are ranked 11th in both polls and finished second in arguably the toughest top to bottom conference in college basketball.
For other fans, it could be labeled as average and again, there is not a lot of disputing that either. West Virginia lost five games they honestly should have won. If you count the Baylor game in Waco where WVU led by eight points with eight minutes to play and the Oklahoma State game at home where they led by six midway through the second half, it’s possible West Virginia could be undefeated and ranked No. 1 right at this very second.
But no matter which group you side with, it is what it is, and now the time has come—tournament time.
Here’s a few things WVU needs to do to follow the women’s team and bring home the Big 12 title; besides the obvious, consistency:
1: Daxter Miles Needs to be Good Daxter
Junior shooting guard Daxter Miles has so much talent and upside, I’m not sure he even knows where to begin with it. The guy is mega talented as evidenced by his put back tip-ins and slams and his lethal 3-point shooting. But he needs to be consistent. He has a tendency to disappear from games if he misses his first two or three shots and when he vanishes he might as well go sit in between Bob (Huggins) and Billy (Hahn) on the bench. Miles is a player that feeds off positivity so he needs to get off to good starts because when he is playing well, the Mountaineers are nearly impossible to beat.
2: Esa Ahmad’s Back Spasms Need to Go Away
Much like the aforementioned Miles, sophomore Esa Ahmad is a huge key to the success of his team. If Ahmad plays well, West Virginia usually wins. If he doesn’t, they tend to struggle into a slugfest every now and then. Ahmad’s best game of the season came back on January 23rd against the projected No. 1 overall seed Kansas when he poured in 27 points and abused the whole Jayhawk defense. The result was an easy Mountaineer victory. But back spasms forced the small forward to miss three of the last four games and when he returned in the regular season finale against Iowa state, it was evident that he was a player full of rust. If he gets back to being healthy Esa, WVU will have a fighting chance to hoist a trophy.
3: Someone tell Jevon Carter he’s the worst player in the country
Obviously, Jevon Carter is nowhere close to the worst player in the country. In fact, he is one of the best players in not just the conference but the entire nation. But after being named to the All-Big 12 second team and conference defensive player of the year, Carter is no longer a player that will sneak up on anyone. Early in the season, it was easy to see Carter being overlooked and never mentioned among the best guards in the conference. My, how things have changed.
Carter leads the team in scoring (12.9), assists (4.0) and steals (2.7). He also is second on the team in rebounding at 5.0 per game. However, it is important for Carter not to settle and get comfortable. Hopefully he keeps the chip on his shoulder because when he is told or it is perceived that he’s not the best, he will get up in his man’s face and harass him, and prove his defensive player of the year title was totally well deserved. Coach Huggins and all his teammates should tell him that he is terrible.
4: Bench Play Must Stay Consistent
If there is one thing that is known about WVU, other than their pressing prestige, it is how deep of a team they are. To play their style, they need to be deep and for the most part this season they have been, and that cannot dwindle at this time of the year. Tarik Phillip was named Big 12 sixth man of the year—the second year in a row that award has gone to a Mountaineer (Jaysean Paige)—Lamont West is a deadly 3-point shooter that is also improving in other areas now. Sagaba Konate has become a fan favorite with his dunking and shot blocking and Teyvon Myers could turn a sad room into the happiest place on earth with his smile and positive attitude, plus he is a pretty good offensive player too. All they need to do is stay consistent for one more month then they can all have a much needed rest.
5: Elijah Macon Should Continue Being Awesome
Junior center Elijah Macon has gone from being a forgotten man through the first two and a half months of the season to a pretty dominant force over the last five or six games. He went from not being able to catch the ball to grabbing everything around him. From not making a shot to what seems like never missing. He is even making fans feel comfortable when he is at the free throw line. Inside play often gets over looked by guard play especially in the postseason,but if Macon concludes these next few weeks like he has been playing recently, WVU becomes a serious threat this week in the conference tourney and next week as well in the Big Dance.
The Mountaineers play Thursday night against the winner of Texas/Texas Tech in search of their first Big 12 tournament championship.
What are your keys to a tournament victory?