MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Postseason basketball has begun around the country.
West Virginia men’s basketball tips off the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday as the 8-seed in the conference, setting up a first-round clash with 9-seed Texas Tech at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU. The Mountaineers split the regular season series with the Red Raiders and dropped their most recent matchup with the squad in Morgantown.
On Wednesday, the environment will be much different. Unlike in those earlier matchups, the shot at a conference title is on the line and the losing team from this neutral-site clash will be sent home, left to wait for Selection Sunday.
“Everybody’s playing for their life,” said WVU fifth-year forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. “So once you realize you’re playing for your life and you don’t want to lose, that’s when all those miraculous plays happen, those things where you’re like, ‘Well, it’s March.’ That’s the real.”
Additionally, the Red Raiders will line up without a key man on its bench, after the suspension of coach Mark Adams went into effect on Sunday. Bob Huggins isn’t letting that news affect his players, as he knows that his team will still need to play well in order to advance to the Big 12 Quarterfinals.
“They’ve got really good players and they’ve got great size. We’re going to have to play really well,” Huggins said.
Texas Tech got its revenge in February behind a massive effort on the glass led by Fardaws Aimaq, who posted a 14-point, 12-rebound day in Morgantown. That helped the Red Raiders out-rebound the Mountaineers by 11 on their home floor.
Defense will also be a point of emphasis as several Red Raiders have found a stride in the latter part of the season as the team has fallen by less than four points in their last three games. They have plenty of weapons, like De’Vion Harmon, Jaylon Tyson and freshman star Pop Isaacs, each of whom have given WVU a degree of annoyance this season.
Luckily for the Mountaineers, they ended the season on a real high note, toppling No. 11 Kansas State to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with some strong defense.
“I think we got a lot of practice the other day, because that little guy at K-State [Markquis Nowell] is pretty good with the ball and shoots it with great range as well,” Huggins said. “So I think that was great preparation for us.”
The Red Raiders’ attention will be fixated on all-conference guard Erik Stevenson, who ended the regular season with five straight 20-plus point games.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will go up against top-seeded Kansas in the Quarterfinals, a squad both teams faced in the final week of the regular season.