College Basketball

Sad Country Road

Ray Thompson/Associated Press

In the words of the great Al Michaels after seeing Antonio Freeman make an incredible catch during a Monday night football game, they did what? West Virginia’s Tarik Phillip hit a layup with three minutes left to give the ninth ranked Mountaineers a 14 point lead over the third ranked Kansas Jayhawks. This left Kansas 3 minutes away from losing back to back home games for the first time since the 1988-1989 season. Coach Bill Self has never lost two straight home games in his 13 years as head coach of the Jayhawks. Fans were leaving for the exits at hollowed Allen Fieldhouse. Then, what transpired over the last three minutes will be hard to put into words as it is virtually indescribable. Let’s put it this way, this game ended in overtime.

West Virginia is a team that thrives off forcing turnovers with their full court pressure. So you would think that all the time that they spend in practice using that pressure against each other that they would be able to take down an opposing team’s press. Not so fast, as that proved not to be the case last night. Before we get to the turnovers, we have to talk about the free throw shooting. West Virginia as a team is shooting 67.3% from the free throw line, 261st in the country. After the Mountaineers extended their lead to 14, they proceeded to miss their next three free throws which allowed Kansas to cut the lead to 6 with just under two minutes to play. Then it seemed as the Mountaineers were going to hold on as they hit 7 of their next 8 free throws to end regulation. The problem ended up being the turnovers. WVU turned the ball over four times in the last two minutes of regulation. Three of those turnovers led to six Kansas points, all of which came from the free throw line with the clock stopped. For a team that is so experienced at running a press on defense, they looked like they have never seen a press on the offensive end. They continually inbounded the ball deep into the corner which gave them very few options. Numerous times, West Virginia was trapped in the corner and had to force a pass into the middle which led to a steal for Kansas. Once Kansas tied the game at 71 with 21 seconds left, West Virginia had one last chance to salvage this game. After a timeout, the ball was put into Phillip’s hands on the wing where he jab stepped and pump faked a few times before heaving up a contested three as time expired. I wasn’t in the huddle during the timeout but you have to think that is not what Coach Bob Huggins drew up. In overtime, it was all Jayhawks as they held on to complete the comeback and win 84-80.

So where does this game leave these two top ten teams? For Kansas, they now hold a two game lead for first place in the Big 12 with just five games to play, meaning the Jayhawks have nearly locked up their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship. That will almost certainly mean another 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which would be their 5th #1 seed in the last 8 years. However, in their previous four times as #1 seed, the Jayhawks have made the Final Four just once, losing to Kentucky in the national championship game in 2012. This group of Jayhawks is led by senior Frank Mason who has been a part of a few teams the past few years that have fallen short in the tournament. The Jayhawks have the guard play with Mason, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson to make a run.
The question will be the depth of the frontcourt and what kind of production they can get from fellow senior Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg on a nightly basis.

As for West Virginia, this could be the type of loss that puts a team into a tailspin. They can’t let this game define their season. They have to continue to do what they do best, force turnovers. They are a deep team with 10 guys playing at least 11 minutes per game. They can throw different bodies at you to keep the pressure for the full forty minutes. The mountaineers will have to figure it out quickly as they host a Texas Tech team on Saturday that just took down #4 Baylor last night. West Virginia can still play its way to a top 4 seed line in the tournament. They’re a good enough team that a collapse of this magnitude can only happen once in a season. If they can get out to similar leads come tournament time, expect them to learn from these mistakes and make a run in this tournament. Don’t count this team out purely because of this loss. Bob Huggins is too good of a coach to let this loss define this team. We haven’t seen the last of the Mountaineers.

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