FORT WORTH, Texas — Sure, the pups at the Westminster Kennel are adorable, but there’s something equally lovable (or as some might say, meatier) about the four-legged celebs at the Fort Worth Stock Show, where “Lunchbox” was Friday’s grand champion and eventually could fetch $200,000.
Chalk it up to just one more cultural difference in the Big East and the Big 12.
From a basketball standpoint, West Virginia’s 71-50 home win over TCU on Jan. 23 was easier than cow-tipping, but Saturday’s return game suddenly looks more difficult after the Horned Frogs ambushed Kansas. It was an upset that RPI guru Jerry Palm labeled “the biggest upset in the 20 years I’ve been tracking numbers.”
That stunner means TCU (10-12, 1-8 Big 12) and West Virginia (11-11, 4-5) enter on winning streaks, which lends some positive vibes to our five-point pregame primer:
1. TCU really beat Kansas? WTH?
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram labeled the scene “Frog Heaven” after a TCU team ranked 236th in the RPI took down the No. 7-rated Jayhawks. More than 48 hours later, it’s still hard to fathom. (In fact, as I watched the replay on Thursday, there were at least five junctures in the second half when I believed KU was going to pull it out.)
And I’ll admit to having predicted that TCU, with two big men lost to knee injuries and no reliable shotmakers, was likely headed for an 0-18 conference record this season. Of course, Bob Huggins saw it otherwise.
“I’m the one who said they wouldn’t go 0-fer, because I thought they played too hard,” Huggins said. “I thought they’d win a game or two in the league. I never, ever thought they wouldn’t win one.”
But c’mon, Huggs, did you think that win would come against Kansas?
“No that wouldn’t have been my first pick,” he said.
2. Feeling too Froggie?
Apparently, the TCU celebration didn’t end with the court-storming at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. The Star-Telegram reported that several players missed class Thursday morning and others had their cars towed or booted. Coach Trent Johnson, who downplayed the win as a program-changer, learned of these issues while he was off campus recruiting Thursday.
“Did I think some of this stuff could happen today? No question,” Johnson said. “But when this program is where it needs to be and we’re winning and competing at a high level consistently, I won’t have to worry about this stuff. Today, I’m not very happy and that’s just the way it is. Right now, this is a teaching point.”
“Every guy should have been in class, on time. Every guy should have had some sleep. I don’t care if we beat the Lakers last night. I don’t care, that’s just the way it is.”
3. Game No. 1,000 for Huggins
In his 31st year as a head coach, Huggins reaches a milestone on Saturday — one he said he only learned about through a text from basketball sports information director Bryan Messerly. Huggins said 1,000 games speaks somewhat to his longevity, but more to the fact he’s getting old.
“My hips were feeling better, my knees were better, and then (Messerly) texted me that and all of sudden they started hurting again,” Huggins said.
He has fond recollections his first game as a head coach, leading NAIA member Walsh College to a win against Oberlin College in 1980.
“I thought about retiring after that one,” Huggins cracked Friday. “Retire undefeated.”
As for which of his career victories stand out, Huggins couldn’t overlook the 2010 upset of Kentucky that propelled WVU’s Final Four run, and the Big East tournament championship the Mountaineers won two weeks earlier.
“Obviously the Kentucky game was great, but I thought winning the Big East was a great deal,” he said “Looking around Madison Square Garden and seeing that ring of gold — in the largest city in the world, the most famous basketball arena in the world playing “Country Roads,” and seeing fans with tears of joy in their eyes — that was pretty neat.”
If those moments represented the high points of a 721-278 record, which games would he most like to have back?
“There’s about 300 and something I’d like to have back,” he said.
4. When they last met …
TCU was out-rebounded 42-30 in Morgantown, but watch out Saturday for 6-foot-7 forward Connell Crossland, who has 27 rebounds in his last two games, including 15 against Kansas. That work on the boards has led to putbacks, helping Crossland shoot better than 65 percent during the last four games.
Also on the uptick is TCU guard Garlon Green, who was suffocated by WVU in the first meeting, finishing with four points and six turnovers. He lit up Kansas for 20 points while turning over the ball only once.
5. WVU showing improvement
For many teams, this would represent modest improvement, but shooting above 40 percent in three of its last four games has been a tickertape event for WVU. While that has coincided with Deniz Kilicli providing more inside scoring punch and defensive activity, his plus/minus during those four games remains negative-22.
Earlier this week, Kilicli characterized the team’s ho-hum response to beating TCU in the first matchup, saying “it was only TCU.” Well, it’s obvious Kansas felt the same way, leading to college basketball’s most shocking upset of the season and providig West Virginia with a heads-up as it travels West once more.