Nothing is strikingly new with West Virginia this basketball season. It’s just that the Mountaineers are doing their thing even better than ever.
The Mountaineers’ 15-game winning streak has elevated them to second in the national polls, and Press Virginia has been anointed as the team most likely to dethrone 13-time defending champ Kansas in the Big 12.
To Bob Huggins, this just makes the job that much harder.
“The dog with the bone is always in danger,” the West Virginia coach said Thursday. “We’re going to have a bull’s-eye on our back.
“When we came into this league, I don’t think people really even knew who we were. Now we’re a big target. I’ll tell you, it’s easier to get up there (in the polls) than to stay there.”
In their first game as the nation’s No. 2 team, the Mountaineers barely survived Baylor, winning 57-54 in Morgantown. Next, they venture to Lubbock to face No. 8 Texas Tech on Saturday.
“Tech has a great mix of the old and the new,” Huggins said. “They play 10 people and will never give you the same look. They stay fresh and active.”
At home, West Virginia has sold out its past two games and recently announced sellouts for four future dates. The Mountaineers are averaging 10,923 in a 14,000-seat building.
On the court, two old hands — senior guards Jevon Carter and Dax Miles seem like they’ve been in Morgantown forever — continue to lead the way.
Carter fills up the stat sheet with 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game, which ranks second in the NCAA. Miles is at 13.8 points, 3.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
The new touches are supplied by forwards Sagaba Konate (9.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks) and Teddy Allen (9.1 points). Konate, a physical inside presence from Hermitage, Pa., rates among the nation’s top players in advanced defensive metrics.
The Mountaineers also will welcome back forward Esa Ahmad on Saturday after a two-month academic suspension.
“He’s the best rebounding small forward in our league, not even close,” Huggins remarked.
West Virginia’s trademark defensive intensity lives on, as do its ugly shooting stats. The Mountaineers are second in the NCAA in turnover margin, third in turnovers forced and sixth in steals. They are 265th in three-point shooting percentage.
“It’s not like we’re not trying to make them,” Huggins said of his team’s shooting.
Coaches’ tidings: Several Big 12 coaches appearing on Thursday’s teleconference offered their best wishes for Texas guard Andrew Jones, who’s been diagnosed with leukemia.
“Yesterday, I know, was devastating for the University of Texas,” said Kansas’ Bill Self, “but it was also for everyone else in our league. We wish Andrew a very speedy recovery so he can get back on the court as soon as possible.”
Huggins said: “It’s terrible. We all need to try to do more to rid the world of this terrible disease. You feel for the player and his family.”
Rim shots: The Big 12 is the only league with half its teams ranked in the national polls. It’s also the only league with half its teams in the RPI top 20. … After road teams won 8 of 9 conference games, home teams have won 10 of the past 11. … Kansas forward Udoka Azubuike is second in the NCAA in field-goal shooting at an astounding 76.6 percent.
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Comment
1. (1) West Virginia;15-1 (4-0);at Texas Tech (14-2), Sat.;Own nation’s longest winning streak at 15, though three conference games decided by eight points or fewer.
2. (2) Oklahoma;13-2 (3-1);vs. TCU (13-3), Sat.;Race-horse Sooners second in NCAA in scoring at 93.1, yet they’re also seventh in defensive rebounding.
3. (3) Texas Tech;14-2 (3-1);vs. West Virginia (15-1), Sat.;WVU coach Bob Huggins says Red Raiders’ freshman guards ‘are as good as any two in the country.’
4. (5) Kansas;13-3 (3-1);vs. Kansas State (12-4), Sat.;KU one of just 17 teams shooting better than 50 percent, quite a feat without inside help for Udoka.
5. (4) TCU;13-3 (1-3);at Oklahoma (13-2), Sat.;Horned Frogs last in Big 12 FG shooting defense, and it’s coming back to bite them in league games.
6. (6) Texas;11-5 (2-2);at Oklahoma State (11-5), Sat.;Horns rise up to win one for Andrew Jones, but it’s hard to take that emotion on the road.
7. (8) Baylor;11-5 (1-3);at Iowa State (9-6), Sat.;Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., one of most improved big men, averaging 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks.
8. (7) Kansas State;12-4 (2-2);at Kansas (13-3), Sat.;Junior guard Barry Brown, coming off 38-point game, is explosive scorer who can change games.
9. (9) Oklahoma State;11-5 (1-3);vs. Texas (11-5), Sat.;If nothing else, Cowboys can hang hat on FT shooting: 78.3 percent is ninth in NCAA.
10. (10) Iowa State;9-6 (0-4);vs. Baylor (11-5), Sat.;Cyclones last in several major Big 12 categories, but home attendance (13,948 avg.) trails only Kansas.