Christmas magic needed to stand Big 12 schedule

The one that got away was the loss to Duquesne. A three-point loss to Davidson could be tolerated and the seven-point loss inflicted by conference rival Oklahoma wasn’t unexpected either.

But losing to Duquesne was a mess. The Iron Dukes just lost to Robert Morris by a 91-69 score that gave some real indication of the quality of team Duquesne has.

West Virginia made the NCAA tournament field with a 19-13 record last season. The last of those 13 losses was inflicted in the Big East Conference tournament by Connecticut in a first-round game at Madison Square Garden. The 14th and final loss of the season was administered by Gonzaga in a run-away-and-hide game in the NCAA tournament.

After falling to unbeaten Michigan and Coach John Beilein on Saturday in Brooklyn, the Mountaineers are 4-5 overall.

WVU center Deniz Kilicli points to Kevin Noreen after Noreen had his career highs in points and rebounds.

WVU center Deniz Kilicli points to Kevin Noreen after Noreen had his career highs in points and rebounds.

Only Oakland (Michigan), Radford, and Eastern Kentucky remain on West Virginia’s schedule before the first dive into the cold, cold waters of the Big 12 Conference.Should the Mountaineers win the three remaining non-conference games — all at home and beginning tonight against Oakland — they would have a 7-5 record when Oklahoma visits Morgantown on Jan. 5 for the Big 12 baptism.

A record of 7-5 is not much to show the NCAA when going hat in hand to that body in search of early at-large credibility for this season’s tournament.

What does the Big 12 have?

To begin with, it has Kansas, a Top Five team in most seasons. The Longhorns of Texas are usually a Top 25 team. Recently, the Baylor Bears have surfaced as a team that wins 22 or more games. The Bears have already beaten Kentucky in Lexington this year.

Kansas State has been an NCAA tournament team. And Oklahoma State seems to have the firepower this season to also find its way to the NCAA tournament.

Oklahoma stopped the Mountaineers, 77-70, in that Thanksgiving tournament staged in central Florida.

The tamest of the Big 12 teams are Texas Tech, TCU, and Iowa State.

Like West Virginia, TCU is in its first year in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs have never been much in basketball. And they are not much this time. But a West Virginia win in Forth Worth would take some doing.

Iowa State always pulls off a conference upset in Ames, and beating West Virginia there wouldn’t even be an upset.

With the novelty of a Big 12 schedule still settling in people’s minds, West Virginia has no natural rivals in the conference. The crowds for games against Kansas and Texas will be full-throated, excited, and near sell-out in numbers.

But people don’t known Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU, and Oklahoma State and crowds for those game might be lacking in numbers.

A 7-5 non-conference record will probably be too little unless there are at least three “upsets” on the road in conference games.

Any more games like the one at Duquesne, which came three days after beating then-unbeaten Virginia Tech in Morgantown, will result in a West Virginia scramble to qualify for the NIT event . . . with the NCAA tournament far away as pie in the sky.

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