What went down in Ames, Iowa, on Tuesday night is a fitting encapsulation of college basketball in 2016.
Both teams are ranked (No. 14 West Virginia and No. 13 Iowa State), so it’s not like the shock of the week or anything. It was a really solid tilt between two teams with Final Four aspirations this season, both of whom have built nice seasons around terrific wins against really good teams — but have dropped some weird games, too.
Nevertheless, few visiting teams can pull off wins at Hilton Coliseum. Even fewer can do it when finding themselves down 15 points. Yet not only did West Virginia pull this very feat off on Tuesday night with an 81-76 victory vs. Iowa State, remember: WVU just got shellacked at just-OK Florida by 17 points on Saturday.
Iowa State was looking to rebound after a game effort — but a loss — at No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday. This one looked like a good game, but c’mon. It’s Iowa State at home in primetime against an opponent without an offense to match ISU’s output.
So yeah, WVU defeating ISU makes no sense but neither does this season. Things continue to not make much sense in this sport. Very wild, very fun, very frustrating. So keep it coming, college hoops.
What a resourceful and important win for Bob Huggins’ team. This will absolutely mean something come seeding time. The Mountaineers are now 18-4 and still atop the Big 12 standings with a 7-2 record. ISU is 16-6 but 5-4 in the league. The Cyclones could wind up seeded anywhere from 3 to 6 — and still be dangerous all the same come March.
The Mountaineers’ win marks the third time in four years ISU has lost at home. Beating Kansas and Oklahoma in Ames earlier this season did not promise another victory against a highly ranked league foe. The Big 12 is such a bear. Speaking of Bears, remember that Baylor also beat ISU at Hilton back on Jan. 9.
ISU didn’t lose because of Monte Morris. The All-American candidate had 10 assists (and nine points and three steals) but no turnovers against a West Virginia’s pressing defense that flusters most point guards. . Georges Niang, however, had an iffy night. He likely put himself out of realistic contention for national player of the year (it’s Buddy Hield’s to lose anyway, of course). Niang finished 20 points but had eight turnovers. Abdel Nader added 19 points for the Cyclones.
The Cyclones were outscored 9-0 in the final minute by a WVU team that, flatly, seemed to have more gas in the final five minutes. ISU’s turnovers late cost them, but WVU also won a few vital 50-50 balls in the closing minute. Jaysean Paige came off the bench to lead WVU with 23 points.
Now ISU plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Cyclones are better than the Cowboys, but this is a league game. Kansas lost at Oklahoma State this season. A loss here would negate a lot of the good Steve Prohm’s program accrued in recent weeks.
As for West Virginia, if it beat Baylor at home, it faces a road game at Kansas on Monday night. The meat grinder of the Big 12 goes on. These teams are going to continue to eat each other alive. The fun upshot of this is we have the most unpredictable league race in this conference in nearly 15 years.