West Virginia Impressive As It Rips Oklahoma State, Now Turns Attention to No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Oklahoma

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - And now, Kansas.

Of course, that lead is absurdly dismissive and completely overlooks the absolute domination flashed by West Virginia in its 77-60 win over Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers, 14-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12 for the first time in school history, showcased solid ball movement, crisp passing and a smothering defense. That trio paired nicely with an inside-out style which morphed into a series of offensive rebounds and putback scores when WVU missed 11 of its first 15 three-pointers. But that really was no matter, as the nation's 17th-ranked team - or 15th, pending your trust in either the writers or the coaches - grabbed 18 offensive rebounds for 17 second-chance points.

"It's a start," a relaxed Devin Williams said afterward. "There's more to our game, more we can do. As long as we keep coming together the way we are and sharing the ball, passing on the inside, you never know. I'm just trying to take this all in."

Translation: West Virginia's best basketball is still ahead of it, though this was a pretty good glimpse of the possibilities against what expects to be a subpar Oklahoma State team. Williams and Jonathan Holton controlled the interior, finshing with 12 and 15 points, respectively. The duo hit just enough jumpshots to open passing lanes and angles to the inside, and a healthy helping of the misses from three-point range or close were gobbled up and distributed back into the bucket to the tune of a nine-point advantage in second chance points. Holton, in fact, managed among the better stat lines of his career, with a team second-best 15 points, nine rebounds - six offensive - three assists and two steals against zero turnovers. And, gasp, he had just one foul in 26 minutes of play.

Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter? The backcourt tandem-that-usually-isn't played their prototypical games, though Paige struggled shooting from the field in his first start following Daxter Miles' ankle injury this week in practice. Carter led all scorers with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting with four three-pointers, and routinely moved the ball up the floor with ease and got the Mountaineers into their zone-buster sets. Paige missed eight of 10 shots, and all four threes, but provided his usual energy and activity on the floor while scoring nine and getting to the line for eight free throws.

Others filled the usual roles, Esa Ahmad with his rebounding, floor vision and understanding of the game, Tarik Phillp with his will and tenacity, though a steady stream of fouls over his 17 minutes had him at the max of five with 88 seconds to play. In all, it was complete a win as the Mountaineers have had this season over a Power Five foe, with advantages across nearly every statistical category including rebounding (40-33), points off turnovers (15-7), second chance points, assists (15-9), and turnovers forced (16-10). The only aspect Oklahoma State had, thanks to some easy lay-ins off the pressure, was in shooting. But as Carter noted after the game, "we're not a shooting team. We really don't care if the ball goes in." As long as they can rebound it, that is.

And so it was that a sweep of the first three Big 12 opponents, and four in a row from major conferences, has set up the rarest of opportunities. Forget for a moment that West Virginia next faces No. 1 Kansas, which will be just the sixth time in the 45-year history of the Coliseum that a top ranked foe visits. On the backs of that, the Mountaineers travel to No. 2 Oklahoma, which lost only by three in triple overtime on the road at KU on Monday.

"Most people don't recognize how much we should take advantage and appreciate this situation," Williams said. "This next few weeks, we get a chance to play against one and two, and I don't think that has ever happened in the history of any conference, ever. It's a part of history, so I want to have fun and go out and enjoy myself and have no regrets."

And for those that might make the argument the Sooners won't stay in that No. 2 slot after Monday's new polls are released, their performance was so impressive that they very well might hold that ranking. In fact, some RPI and other purely numeric-based polls had Oklahoma jumping Kansas for the top spot after the triple overtime game in Lawrence. Whatever the case, West Virginia is dealing with a rare opportunity here.

The meeting with No. 1 Kansas will be just the 11th time WVU has played against a top-ranked foe. The Mountaineers are 3-7 in such games, the last victory coming against UNLV at the Coliseum in 1983. Other wins came against North Carolina and Duke in 1957 and '66, respectively. It will, again, be just the sixth time in the 45-year history of the Coliseum that a No. 1 ranked team has played there. That averages to one shot at home against a No. 1 team every 7.5 seasons. If you're a student, you could well begin your undergraduate career and never have this opportunity, on average, until you neared a doctorate degree. Consider that for a moment.

Then consider this: The times when West Virginia, which will surely be rated in the top 15 in both major polls, has hosted a game against a No. 1 ranked team while also being ranked in the poll? Once in the 107 seasons of the program. This game has the potential, quite frankly, to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. As head coach Bob Huggins has said with past highly-rated WVU teams, sometimes people just assume it's going to be like that year after year.

"I know people just assumed," Huggins said. "It's hard. Students might never have this opportunity again."

It was true of the 2010 Final Four team, and it's true now. This team, this 14-1, highly-ranked group of guys who love each other, love the state and love and respect the game, deserve nothing less than a full house and an absolutely packed student section that swells the crowd to more than the capacity of 14,000. Kansas might come in here and win. The Jayhawks certainly have a measure of revenge on their minds for the past two times they've come in and left with losses. But the task at hand is to make that as difficult as possible.


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