Mountaineers try to secure consolation prize at Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — There is seeding at stake of both the Big 12 tournament and NCAA variety, but Kansas has already claimed its 14th straight conference title as No. 20 West Virginia visits Texas on Saturday.

While the Mountaineers (22-8, 11-6) can guarantee themselves second place and post 12 conference wins for the third straight season, coach Bob Huggins isn’t crowing about such secondary goals.

“You want to win. You want to hang banners,” he said. “You want to put trophies in the trophy case. You want to bring back your grandchildren one day and say, ‘Paw-Paw was a big part of hanging that championship banner up there,’ instead of, ‘Hey, we got 11 wins four years in a row but didn’t win anything.’”

Entering the regular-season finale, one biting truth is evident: West Virginia would be tied for the league lead had it held on to either of its double-digit second-half leads against Kansas.

As much as that missed opportunity stings Huggins, his team must keep moving on — something it ha done by posting three straight wins since the last run-in vs. Kansas.

Various NCAA bracket projections have the Mountaineers straddling the 3/4 seed line, while Texas (17-13, 7-10) looms in peril of missing the Dance for back-to-back seasons.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has Texas as his last team in, — the ice doesn’t get any thinner than that —and a loss to WVU would leave Shaka Smart’s club with a 7-11 mark in the Big 12. No team with conference record four games below .500 has received an NCAA at-large bid since 1992.

“We just go out there and play basketball,” said Longhorns guard Kerwin Roach II. “West Virginia, they’re an up-and-down team. You want to get up-and-down. So it’s going to be a good game.
“Everybody’s going to play loose. They’re going to play with their hair down.”

No. 20 West Virginia (22-8, 11-6) at Texas (17-13, 7-11)

Tipoff: Saturday, noon in Austin, Texas. (ESPN)

The skinny: UT’s hopes could ride on the return of projected lottery pick Mo Bamba (13 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.8 blocks). The 7-foot freshman sat out Monday’s loss at Kansas with a sprained toe, but Huggins said he “would be the most shocked guy in the world” if Bamba doesn’t play. … WVU won 74-72 in Austin last season, part of four straight wins over Texas. On Jan. 20 in Morgantown, the Mountaineers rolled to an 86-51 blowout. … The Shaka Smart revival hasn’t taken off at Texas. He’s 48-48 there in three seasons, though the midseason loss of Andrew Jones became a huge setback. The team’s top 3-point shooter and second-leading scorer at 13.5 per game was diagnosed with leukemia.

Scouting WVU: Like Texas, the Mountaineers will be coming off a five-day break. … Esa Ahmad (10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds) has given Huggins back-to-back double-doubles and must maintain that level of activity if WVU is to make a postseason push. … Jevon Carter (17.2 points, 6.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds) is capping a brilliant campaign. His 195 assists are two shy of the single-season WVU record held by Fritz Williams since 1967. Carter’s 88 steals are nine shy of Damian Owens’ season mark established in 1998. … Press Virginia is forcing 16.8 turnovers per game, ninth-most in the nation. … KenPom ranks WVU 11th in offensive efficiency and 33rd in defense. … Sagaba Konate (10.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 blocks) is a candidate for the Big 12 all-defensive team. … Daxter Miles (12.4 points), Lamont West (10.1 points) and Beetle Bolden (9.5 points, 44 percent from 3) join Carter as perimeter threats on a team that’s six attempts away from hoisting the most 3s of any Huggins team ever.

RPI: West Virginia 29, Texas 59

Prediction: West Virginia 73-72

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