MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, the West Virginia University basketball team has been on a mission to make an identity on the national stage. WVU is often overlooked among the teams like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Michigan State.
Both the national media outlets and basketball fans across the country, view the Mountaineers as a middle of the pack Big 12 opponent.
On Tuesday night, No. 11 WVU knocked off the No.1 Kansas Jayhawks 74-63, which may have finally put them on the map as a top tier basketball program.
“No matter how good or how bad we are playing, you never see anything about West Virginia,” WVU guard Jevon Carter said. “We come in here and beat the best teams, they don’t have no choice but to talk about us.”
The win over Kansas was WVU’s first win against the nation’s No. 1-ranked team since an 87-78 upset against UNLV back on Feb. 27, 1983.
While the Mountaineers sit atop the Big 12 at 4-0, the road to snapping Kansas’ 12th straight conference title is still a long one.
“This league is the hardest league that West Virginia basketball has ever been in and ever will be in I think,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “We played No.1 today and then we got to go play No.2 on Saturday. Texas is beating Iowa State right now.”
The Mountaineers are 15-1 and bring a top-five defense to the table. The Mountaineers have a solid five that start game in and game out.
Devin Williams has seven double-doubles this season. The junior averages 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Carter (12.6), Daxter Miles Jr. (11.5), Jonathan Holton (9.5) and Esa Ahmad (4.6) round out the starters.
But what’s impressive about WVU is it may have the best 10 in the conference. Maybe even the country.
“There five might be better, but our 10 is better,” WVU guard Jaysean Paige said. “So it’s a team effort. It’s a team win.”
Paige comes off the bench and averages 13.4 points. Tarik Phillip averages 7.7 points.
The duo of Paige and Phillip pose a huge threat to opponents. In fact, they may be considered the best two guards on the team.
What makes the Mountaineers’ special is they have no fear.
“It’s the Big 12,” Carter said. “We can’t come in thinking like oh we got this team we got a chance of losing. It’s the Big 12. You got to feel like you’re the Big 12 champs. That’s your goal. So we come out here and play every game like it’s our last.”
WVU has a way to get in opponents’ heads. The Mountaineers forced the Jayhawks to turn the ball over 22 times.
WVU ranks first in the country in defensive turnover percentage. The Mountaineers are sixth in the nation in defensive three-point percentage.
Kansas head coach Bill Self acknowledges that WVU’s grit and style of play caused his team to play poorly.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman wrote about last nights game in Morgantown pic.twitter.com/agdrerAhDu
— Blue Gold Sports (@Blue_GoldSports) January 13, 2016
The goal is so much bigger than a conference championship. WVU has been shooting for the stars since the summer when they were spotted wearing shirts that read “Houston 4-4-16,” the date and location of this year’s Final Four.