In a stretch of games where the Mountaineers have been out to prove to people that they were as good as they believe they are, this matchup was one a lot have had circled for quite some time. Tests like these are when you find out how a team really is.
And, for the most part, West Virginia looked to be up for the challenge. The Mountaineers came out motivated and ready to try to make a splash, they didn't want to let things get out of control the way they did last season in Lawrence.
While Saturday's 14-point loss to the No. 8 Jayhawks might not look like a really impressive showing for this WVU team, it did a pretty good job most of the game and played one of its better games of the year – it just wasn't enough to get over the hump and pick up a win that would have been monumental for this team's confidence as it heads into an important final stretch of the season heading into the last seven games of the year.
It wasn't necessarily anything West Virginia did poorly in the game, although it did struggle to get consistency at times from some of the players like Terry Henderson and (even though he scored 17 points, on just 3-of-10 shooting) Eron Harris. Every time the Mountaineers started to pick things up and piece together a little run to try to get back in the game, Kansas did what it needed to do to fend off the Mountaineers and bring that momentum to a screeching halt.
The Jayhawks proved, once again, that it was just a cut above the rest of the teams in the Big 12.
Time and time again, their guards made plays when they needed to. Their bigs outmanned and overpowered the Mountaineers, as the frontcourt unit consisting of Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor went 13-of-18 from the field for a combined 37 points, 24 rebounds and four blocks against WVU.
After Saturday, there's no doubt that this West Virginia team is one that can compete with some of the best in the nation – it had proved this fact multiple times, even though it has just one win against a top-25 opponent to show for it. This game made the question of whether or not WVU is an NCAA tournament team a little bit more complicated to answer.
On one hand, if you look at the resume, it's tough to say that the Mountaineers deserve to be strongly considered to earn an at-large bid as of now. With the exception of the three-straight wins it had over the course of the last few weeks, there aren't many other quality victory for them to state their case. Then when you throw a loss to Virginia Tech into the mix, it looks more and more likely that this team will have to settle for an NIT berth.
But by looking at the way this team plays and the way it competes, it's hard to argue that this team can't beat some of the teams that will go on to get those bids in March. They play hard and truly believe that they are able to play with and compete at a high level against any opponent they square off against.
It's tough to call any loss a moral victory, but Saturday's loss to Kansas was not a terrible loss for this team. It can build off this, and keep improving. It did plenty of things really well, but as they've done a few times this season, there were just a few mistakes here and there that continued to cost this team a huge win.
But if nothing else, this team is going to continue getting better and will be a lot of fun to watch over the course of the final weeks of the season.