If West Virginia doesn’t win the Big 12 basketball title, it won’t be for lack of talent

KANSAS CITY — It won’t be a matter of physical talent, West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins said when it comes to his group of Mountaineers this season.

It won’t be speed or athletic ability keeping the Mountaineers from getting over the sizable hump that has become the Big 12 title.

For the past three seasons, the Mountaineers have advanced to the league’s tournament championship game, only to fall short every time.

On Wednesday, a WVU contingent including Huggins, as well as players Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate and “Beetle” Bolden will make their way to Kansas City’s Sprint Center — the site of those three setbacks.

Big 12 media day will begin a hoops season that has the conference feeling optimistic about its chances at sending one, or more, of its teams to the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis.

Could West Virginia be one of those teams?

The Mountaineers advanced to the Sweet 16 last season and were picked third in this season’s preseason Big 12 coaches’ poll.

“We could be first or we could be sixth, you know?” Huggins said. “It depends on how fast those guys learn. I think we’re talented enough.

“I don’t think talent is the problem. I think knowledge is the problem. It’s hard when you can’t get all five guys on the same page, because someone is always going to get in the way.”

“Those guys” are the seven first-year eligible scholarship players on the Mountaineers’ roster.

Talented? Likely. But equally raw and unaccustomed to life in the Big 12.

Ahead of the Mountaineers are 14-time champion Kansas, who was picked first, and Kansas State, who played in the Elite Eight last season and return all five starters.

Behind the Mountaineers is a suddenly resurgent Texas Tech team that also advanced to the Elite Eight last season, as well as well as TCU, which continues to improve under head coach Jamie Dixon.

Staying near the top of the league will prove to be a challenge for Huggins, who believes there is great potential in his new players.

“Those guys have got to get up to speed,” Huggins said. “I tell them every day, “Listen, if I can’t trust you to do the right thing, how can I put you into a game?’ ”

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