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Three Thoughts from West Virginia’s Over Kansas State

The West Virginia Mountaineers defeated the Kansas State Wildcats, 71-68, in the men’s Big 12 basketball tournament at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Saturday.

The Mountaineers (12-2, 1-1 in the Big 12) overcame a 17-point deficit in the first half to claim their first Big 12 Conference win against the Kansas State team (8-6, 0-3).

Although the Wildcats lost the lead, they let the mountaineers outrun it, as the Markquis Nowell 3 pointer in the bell could have hooked it up. Kedrian Johnson and Jalen Bridges both made two free throws that helped the Mountaineers maintain the victory.

West Virginia is back at full strength after a week off. The Mountaineers were without three players, including leading scorer Taz Sherman, due to COVID protocols when they started the Big 12 on New Year’s Day in Texas. After a scheduled WVU match with the TCU was postponed due to COVID issues in the TCU, I took a week to get everyone right — and to make some tweaks on the floor.

Sean McNeill led the WVU with 26 points, Sherman scored 14, and Johnson added 11. Gabe Osabohin, who missed the Texas game due to COVID protocols, had 12 rebounds.

Kansas has not been so lucky. The Wildcats were down to seven players, and they were without head coach Bruce Weber, in their 70-57 loss to the Texas on Tuesday. Against the Mountaineers, K-State reclaimed Noel, who averaged over 12 points per game, and finished with 10 points on Saturday. But Webber was out for the second game, as was assistant coach Shane Southwell. So, assistant coach Jermaine Henderson turned the bench.

Webber has been upfront about what he sees as the unfairness of his team having to play without a full roster for two consecutive games. Nigel Buck topped the Wildcats with 20 points, while Ismail Masoud added 13 points.

Here are our three ideas from the game.

It was raining 3s

McNeil and Pack both played massive matches from behind the arc for their teams, giving fans a stellar display from two of the conference’s top offensive players.

McNeill’s professional game came with a 3-pointer four, part of a game where he scored nine field goals and was 4-for-1 from the free throw line. McNeill’s game from a distance is nothing new. But after a week of rest, the mountaineers were grateful that he ignored the rust after a week of rest. He entered the game with 39 percent of the arc.

Buck poured in six three-pointers as he became the main source of attack for the Wildcats. He was 7 out of 18 off the floor but didn’t shoot a single free throw.

Buck is one of the league’s most admired players who doesn’t get a lot of attention, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Kansas State hasn’t been among the top teams in the Big 12 since he arrived last season. If someone was sarcastic, you could say that the Pack is time to move on from the program and find a better situation. I hope that is not the case. I’m going to miss watching him play and he could be part of the answer at Kansas State.

Is Bruce Weber right?

Here are Webber’s comments about the Big 12’s gameplay policy in the face of COVID protocols:

“I don’t think it’s right, I think it’s unfair. I expressed that to the league office last year. I did this year for our management,” Webber said.

You have to dig a little deeper to find the source of Weber’s frustration, and that’s in the story on ksnt.com. Webber was reportedly frustrated that the WVU had players in COVID protocols when they played in Texas on January 1 but had their game with TCU postponed the following Monday.

Well, Webber is right that the WVU had players in their COVID protocols against Texas. But WVU had enough players to play and they did. What seems to be overlooked (or the story seems to be overlooked) is that it was the TCU that had the problem that forced the postponement of its game with the WVU, not the Mountaineers.

The TCU did not have enough scholarship players to play against the Mountaineers or their opponent on New Year’s Day, Kansas.

It takes two teams to play a match, and Webber knows that. While conference policy, revised in December, calls for games to be considered “no competition” if there are fewer than six players available for scholarships, or one coach available, the directive also notes that every effort will be made to reschedule its game.

I think that means Big 12 will do everything they can to avoid a “no contest”, if at all possible. So while a WVU vs TCU match doesn’t count as a ranking win or loss, I expect it will make up at some point.

Webber has a lot to frustrate him, not least not to sit on the bench with his team. But Texas Tech already has one game postponed and rescheduled, and played its second game in a row with reduced numbers due to COVID and injury issues when it faced Kansas on Saturday. Women’s teams are doing the same, including Baylor, who played a game with seven scholarship players in a loss to Kansas State and then had her game with Texas postponed on Sunday once the scholarship numbers dropped below six.

It’s clear that the Big 12 will handle COVID differently this year. It’s also clear that, at least for now, they’re implementing the guidelines as they gave them in December.

What awaits us?

It’s not certain when the WVU will have a make-up game with the TCU, but in the next two weeks, the Mountaineers will be in rhythm on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Mountaineers host Oklahoma State on Tuesday, then travel to Kansas on January 15. Next, the Mountaineers host Baylor on January 18, travel to Texas Tech on January 22 and host Oklahoma on January 26. It’s a challenging extension of WVU, even without a makeup game.

Kansas State has some respite before it hosts TCU on Wednesday. Next, the Wildcats face four back-to-back teams that are currently in the AP Top 25 — hosting Texas Tech on January 15, traveling to Texas on January 18, hosting Kansas on January 22 and traveling to Baylor on January 25. Wildcats need to get healthy and fast.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter Tweet embed.

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