By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s basketball team did nothing to merit it Tuesday, but its life in the Big 12 was just made a whole lot tougher on two levels.
First, it was announced that on Dec. 5 that the Mountaineers will have to travel to Columbia, Mo., to play the Missouri Tigers as part of the first Big 12-SEC Basketball Challenge.
That is always a difficult assignment, going onto the Missouri home court where the Tigers were 17-0 last year and lost but once in each of the two previous seasons.
Make no doubt, WVU’s arrival at Mizzou Arena will not find the Mountaineers greeted at friends.
This, you see, was a chance to match Missouri against its traditional rival from Kansas, a rivalry every bit as heated WVU’s traditional “Backyard Brawl” battles with Pitt, and coming in a season in which Kansas has produced the nation’s best recruiting class adds to the Missouri displeasure over not bringing them into Columbia.
It also leads to the second way in which life was made more brutal in the Big 12 for WVU and Bob Huggins, who has to deal with Kansas’ traditional power now enriched by the nation’s top recruit, Andrew Wiggins out of Huntington Prep.
The conference is thrilled with its new made-for-TV challenge, which includes not only former Big 12 member Missouri but also Texas A&M, which is matched against Oklahoma on Dec. 21
“The Big 12 is excited to enter into another partnership with the SEC,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “It will add more quality opponents to our schools’ annually strong non-conference schedules and provide an additional avenue to showcase some outstanding intersectional matchups.”
The majority of the games are scheduled for December 2-6, with three taking place outside the four-day series window due to scheduling issues. In future years, the two conferences will work with ESPN to schedule all games across consecutive days. ESPN will provide exclusive coverage of all 10 games on its networks. Additional components of the challenge, including start times and television broadcast information, will be announced at a later date.
The Challenge includes five teams ranked in an early ESPN.com preseason top 25: No. 1 Kentucky, No. 5 Kansas, No. 7 Florida, No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 19 Baylor. Two games will pit ranked teams against each other: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 19 Baylor and No. 5 Kansas at No. 7 Florida.
West Virginia and Missouri have met twice previously, both times in the NCAA Tournament.
The latest meeting saw WVU beat the Tigers in 2010, 68-59, with Da’Sean Butler scoring 28 points.
More important to the immediate concerns of the Mountaineers is the recruiting score pulled off in Kansas by Bill Self, who already had compiled a top 5 recruiting class as he attempted to rebuild a team that lost a lot from last season.
Wiggins is the crown jewel in recruiting this season.
“Obviously, everyone in Jayhawk-land is overwhelmed and excited today,” Self said in a release. “This was a pleasant surprise because we never had an idea which way he was leaning. Andrew did this the exact way he said he was going to. He played his cards very close to his vest as did his mother and father.”
The praise Self heaps upon Wiggins is overwhelming.
“He brings athleticism, length, scoring ability, and he’s also an assassin, an alpha dog, and we definitely need that when you have a whole bunch of young kids,” Self said. “I think he’s going to be not just a good player, but have the chance to be a great one. I know the people that support our program are going to be pleasantly surprised when they see him run and play the very first time he gets the opportunity.”
Self went so far as to say “he has a chance to be as good a prospect as we’ve ever had.”
Those are strong words from the school that recruited Wilt Chamberlain.
Here is the Big 12-SEC challenge:
Thursday, Nov. 14
Texas Tech at Alabama
Monday, Dec. 2
Vanderbilt at Texas
Auburn at Iowa State
Thursday, Dec. 5
Mississippi at Kansas State
West Virginia at Missouri
TCU at Mississippi State
Friday, Dec. 6
South Carolina at Oklahoma State
Baylor vs. Kentucky (Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
Tuesday, Dec. 10
Kansas at Florida
Saturday, Dec. 21
Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M (Toyota Center, Houston, Texas)
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.