KANSAS CITY, Mo. — West Virginia didn’t come to Kansas City just to hang out and chow down on barbecue.
The Mountaineers have arrived with the intent of winning their first-ever Big 12 tournament, which would also be the program’s first conference championship since winning the Big East tourney exactly one decade ago.
So what will it take for the sixth-seeded Mountaineers to achieve that goal?
Here are three keys to success.
The red-hot version of Emmitt Matthews
Matthews is beginning to show a penchant for getting hot this time of year.
Last season, he poured in 28 points in West Virginia’s quarterfinal win over Texas Tech. Until Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter dropped 27 on the Red Raiders in the national championship game, no player would come close to that level of success against Texas Tech last postseason.
Matthews has been absent as a scorer for most of this season, but showed signs of shaking out of his mega-slump with 18 points in WVU’s win over Baylor in the regular-season finale.
Matthews has scored a combined seven points in West Virginia’s two losses to Oklahoma. Simply doubling that total could make the difference in getting the Mountaineers out of their quarterfinal matchup.
Continue competent free-throw shooting
One commonality of West Virginia’s current two-game winning streak: shockingly good free-throw shooting.
The Mountaineers have been one of the worst teams in the country at the line this year, but iced each of the past two games there. Mountaineers not named Derek Culver shot 24 of 28 from the line against Baylor and 18 of 22 against Iowa State.
It will be shocking if WVU gets to the line anywhere around 20 times against Oklahoma — only four teams in the country have allowed a lower percentage of points from the free-throw line than the infrequently whistled Sooners. But that means West Virginia must take advantage of the few chances it gets — and carry over the habit in any ensuing games.
I know what you’re saying — “No duh, Sherlock.” Or something close to that.
When averaging at least 1 point per possession this season, West Virginia is 17-1. When the Mountaineers are held below that total, they are 4-9.
This doesn’t mean the Mountaineers need to shoot lights out — if it takes a couple offensive rebounds to score on a given possession, it still counts towards the total. And West Virginia happens to be the top offensive rebounding team in the country right now, so this outcome is possible.