KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An up-and-down West Virginia team faces a Texas squad playing with nothing to lose in the second round of the Big 12 tournament Thursday.
Eleventh-ranked West Virginia (24-7) enters as the second seed in the Big 12, one of the highest-rated conferences in the country. At times -- like the first 77 minutes against No. 1 Kansas -- the Mountaineers look like one of the best teams in the country. They certainly look to be a solid top-four seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
But the Mountaineers have some unusual losses on their record, especially for a team ranked in or near the top 10 all year. Their first four losses were all to teams not currently in ESPN's Bracketology bracket.
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They started the season 12-1, with the lone loss to Temple in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Then they started the Big 12 season 4-3, with losses at Texas Tech and Kansas State and a home setback to Oklahoma.
They struggled when their pressure defense doesn't create turnovers, and when they turn the ball over themselves. The length and athleticism of Texas could create problems. But it also could allow West Virginia to showcase its talent.
Following the back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State, the Mountaineers got back on track with a convincing 85-69 victory over Kansas. That started a season-ending run of 9-3 with losses coming to three teams solidly in the NCAA bracket: Oklahoma State, Kansas and Baylor.
The Kansas loss was particularly gut-wrenching for Huggins and the Mountaineers. They dominated the Jayhawks and led 64-50 with 2:58 left. But Kansas went on a furious charge sending the game to overtime, where they won 84-80.
Texas comes into the game at 11-21 following a 4-14 regular season in the Big 12. They won their sixth game in seven tries in the first round of the Big 12 tournament with a 61-52 come-from-behind victory over Texas Tech. The Longhorns shot 28 percent in the first half and trailed by 11 with 10:35 left before finishing with a 30-10 run.
"I thought our guys really made a decision in the last 10 minutes or so just to be aggressive and attack," coach Shaka Smart said. "(It) helps when a few of your shots go in, as opposed to the first half. (I'm) really proud of the way our guys hung in there and stayed together, even though the game didn't start off great and we had some adversity."
The Longhorns played the Mountaineers tough in Austin, falling 74-72 in January. They'll get another shot less than 24 hours after the game against Texas Tech.
"(I'm) excited about the opportunity to play them," Smart said. "One of the two teams that played was going to get the chance to play them and one of them was going to go home. So we'll definitely take the opportunity to play them."