MORGANTOWN — On October 15 of 2019 the Big 12 Conference announced its preseason rankings as voted upon by the 10 coaches, and rest assured that no one, not even those old rivals Bob Huggins of West Virginia or Jamie Dixon of TCU, envisioned that their meeting today at 9 p.m. in Coliseum would have championship implications.
Yet, that has how this wonderfully wacky season has evolved.
TCU is 3-0 in the conference and tied with Baylor for first place, while newly-anointed No. 12 WVU is tied for third place with Kansas and Oklahoma at 2-1.
This, of course, may be a schedule apparition as TCU’s victories are over Iowa State and Kansas State by two points and Oklahoma State by 12. Those three teams are a combined 1-8 in conference play.
WVU’s competition, by comparison, is 3-6 with the Mountaineers’ lone Big 12 loss coming at Kansas.
West Virginia was not really looked upon as being in the run for the conference title, picked fifth by the coaches, just three points ahead of sixth place Oklahoma State. TCU — poor TCU — was selected last in 10th place with just 11 points, meaning one coach voted for them in ninth place and the rest at the bottom.
Was that coach Jamie Dixon?
We may never know.
What we do know, though, is that TCU has more on its mind than this basketball game, having acknowledged on Wednesday of last week that it had become the fifth school to receive a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA related to the federal investigation of corruption.
The other four publicly known program are Oklahoma State, N.C. State, USC and Kansas. TCU now makes it three teams from the Big 12.
The contents of the allegations have not been released.
Tonight’s game itself figures to come down to TCU’s ability to work WVU’s defense for open 3-point shots while WVU will be trying to stretch its defense to keep that from happening ... and it is a classic matchup, for the TCU is the best 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 and WVU the best at defending it.
The numbers are complete reversals. TCU is hitting 36.8 percent from 3 and WVU is allowing opponents to hit only 23.3 percent of their 3-point shots.
“I’m sure Jamie has looked at every frame of us. They will be really well coached, really well prepared. They’ll play a little zone, something they haven’t done much,” Huggins said.
This means the object of the Mountaineers’ attention will be senior Desmond Bane, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter who is second in scoring in the conference to Kansas’ Devon Dotson and who is hitting an astounding 44.2 percent of his 3-point shots.
That has propelled Bane to the top of the league’s 3-point shooters with 42 made triples.
Last year Bane scored 26 points in the teams’ first game hitting 11-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-5 3-point shots while grabbing eight rebounds. In the second meeting he scored 17 on 7-of-17 shooting to go with eight more rebounds.
After scoring 20 points against Oklahoma State last week, Bane was asked about TCU’s 3-0 start.
“I know you remember the interview we had and I told you we were weren’t going to finish 10th,” he said. “It’s early and we have to grow and get better. It’s a great start, but we have West Virginia coming up.”
And that means coming to Morgantown and facing a team that is exceeding expectations and features a pair of the conference’s top freshmen in Oscar Tshiebwe and Miles “Deuce” McBride as well as a pair of the conference’s top big men in Tshiebwe and Derek Culver.
McBride on Monday won his second Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award after scoring 22 points off the bench to power the Mountaineers past Texas Tech. Tshiebwe has won the same award three times.
And Tshiebwe and Culver give opponents nightmarish matchup problems with their size. The collective size not only allows them to score inside and rebound but to also defend big men, and they also have the speed and agility to play a smaller man when opponents go to a smaller lineup.
TCU will counter with a talented big man of their own, 6-foot-11 redshirt sophomore Kevin Samuel. He’s a rim protector who blocks almost three shots a game to lead the Big 12 and he also leads the conference in double-doubles with eight.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.