MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — New Year’s Eve not only brings about a new calendar year, but it brings the start of a new portion of the schedule for basketball teams at West Virginia University.
Big 12 Conference play begins Saturday for both Bob Huggins’ and Dawn Plitzuweit’s teams. Coach P’s crew will be at home, while Huggins’ bunch will start league play on the road, which has become the norm since joining the Big 12.
The Big 12 is regarded as the strongest conference in men’s basketball according to NET and KenPom rankings. League members are also off to a strong start on the women’s side of things. According to the Big 12, this year’s 94 non-conference wins by the 10 teams in the conference are the most by league members since WVU and TCU joined ahead of the 2012-13 season.
Half of the Big 12’s men’s basketball teams, including No. 24 West Virginia, are ranked inside the AP Top 25. Three other teams received votes to be ranked in the latest poll.
Four Big 12 women’s hoops teams are inside the Top 25, with another getting consideration.
Plitzuweit’s team (9-2) will begin league competition against a pair of ranked foes. The Mountaineers will host No. 20 Oklahoma (10-1) on Saturday before traveling to play No. 15 Iowa State (8-2) on Jan. 4.
“The two teams that we start off with both are teams that score over 80 points a game,” said WVU’s first-year head coach. “And they do it in different ways. They both shoot it really well, but they attack you in a little different ways.”
Huggins and company (10-2) start Big 12 play on the road at Kansas State (11-1) and Oklahoma State (8-4). The schedule then beefs up from there.
Six of WVU’s remaining eight games in January are against teams currently featured in the AP Top 25. The stretch begins with a sold-out home contest against No. 4 Kansas (11-1) and includes home matchups against No. 6 Texas (11-1) and No. 12 Baylor (10-2). A pair of meetings with No. 18 TCU (11-1), and a highly anticipated contest against No. 20 Auburn (11-2) as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, are also featured on the January slate.
“I’d feel a whole lot better about [the start of league play] if it wasn’t backed up by Kansas and Baylor. We certainly need to win on the road,” said Huggins. “We’re coming home and playing the two best teams in the conference for the last however-many years.”
The West Virginia women will face two more currently-ranked programs in January.
In all, WVU basketball programs will play 10 games against ranked opponents through the first month of league play.
Both Mountaineer hoops programs have been tested to this point. But the tests will become more challenging, and more constant beginning this weekend.