MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Without context, the headline ought to be exciting: “West Virginia leaves Kansas tied for first place in the Big 12.”
Imagine for a moment it’s the second week of October and not February. Remember that was when the Mountaineers were picked sixth in the Big 12 coaches’ preseason poll. So if you were to open your newspaper or your browser four months and 24 games later and found WVU was in first place in the top-rated conference in the country, you’d dunk that.
But context matters, and though the 10th-ranked Mountaineers did leave Allen Fieldhouse tied for first place with No. 6 Kansas, which has won or shared the past 11 Big 12 regular-season titles, and No. 3 Oklahoma, which has the likely national player of the year in Buddy Hield, it’s not what they wanted.
They could have headed home alone in first place, a game ahead of the Sooners with a matchup at the Coliseum just nine days away, and two games clear of Kansas. They are instead tangled up with those two. No. 24 Texas is a game back and No. 14 Iowa State and No. 21 Baylor were 1 ½ games back before playing road games Wednesday night.
Perhaps it was audaciously optimistic — a mood WVU fans know to avoid — to think this would have been easy, and Kansas did indeed improve to 203-9 at home in coach Bill Self’s 13th season with a 37th straight win on its floor. But maybe it’s just as misguided to think the Mountaineers won’t still win the conference.
Treat context however you want, but understand this: WVU is tied for first place with seven games to go.
“It’s not like we fell to fifth place,” forward Devin Williams said.
It’s not like they will, either…