Tournament time is finally here. No, not the NCAA Tournament, but the challenge of advancing in this year’s Big 12 Championship might be just as difficult, if not more so, than making a deep run in the Big Dance.
After scratching and clawing their way to a second place finish in the Big 12 regular season standings, the West Virginia Mountaineers know how difficult it is to string wins together in the nation’s No. 1 RPI conference.
In order to hoist the trophy at the Sprint Center Saturday evening, the Mountaineers will have to find a way to turn their season-ending four game winning streak into seven.
“We’re playing well. We just want to finish out the right way, stay healthy and just finish winning games,” said senior guard Jaysean Paige.
Before they think about taking home the trophy, the Mountaineers will look to break their trend of early exits from Kansas City with their first win in the conference tournament since joining the Big 12. Paige said his team has tried to take lessons from their past premature pitfalls at the Sprint Center.
“Execute and play a full 40 minutes. Anything can happen in the tournament. You can get upset if you don’t put a full 40 minutes together with comebacks. You’ve just got to execute and stay in the moment. These are big games, and everybody is playing for a reason,” he said.
“It’s a fresh start for everybody. Everybody is 0-and-0 in the tournament. Anything can happen, so you know you’ve just got to be humble and take care of business.”
It’s a fresh start for everybody, and for some of the teams involved, it’s a last chance to make an impression. That’s certainly the case for the two teams West Virginia could face in Thursday’s Quarterfinal matchup: TCU or Texas Tech.
TCU flat out needs to win this tournament in order to extend its season, so the Horned Frogs will be keyed in for their matchup with the Red Raiders. Should they win that game, it will give them a belief in themselves that would likely translate to a matchup with West Virginia.
Texas Tech, which currently sits as a 7-seed in most recently updated NCAA Tournament projections, simply cannot afford to lose to TCU if it wants to keep itself in the lock category. Beating TCU wouldn’t do much for the Red Raiders’ eventual seeding, but it would give them the chance to significantly improve that the following night against WVU.
While West Virginia went a combined 4-0 against Tech and TCU in the regular season, beating a team three times in a year is always a difficult task simply because there are no more secrets between you.
Whereas in the NCAA Tournament, limited time to prepare will likely give WVU a leg up on opponents because of its style of play, no such advantage exists in the Big 12.
“Everybody’s played (each other), everybody knows what each other is doing right now. It’s just a matter of coming out and playing, and competing; who can stop who and who finishes plays,” Paige said.
No matter who West Virginia takes on Thursday, you can expect a different type of game than what was played in the regular season. That’s how it will be from here on out. Buckle up, folks, it’s tournament time.