Conventional wisdom has it that the Mountaineers' best chance to get that win is the first one. Missouri State has not played a terribly challenging schedule and lost three in a row during its toughest stretch. After beating Tulsa at home in overtime, the Bears lost on the road at Oral Roberts and New Mexico and at home to Oklahoma State.
Missouri State - formerly Southwest Missouri State - has the odd distinction of being a veteran team made up of newcomers. The centerpiece for the defending Missouri Valley Conference champions is 6-foot-6 senior Kyle Weems, the league's preseason player of the year, who averages 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and leads the team with 15 3-pointers.
But the Bears have also had three players named MVC newcomer of the week this season, all of them veterans of other programs. The second-leading scorer is 6-11, 256-pound senior Caleb Patterson (12.9 points), a transfer from Colorado. The point guard is senior Michael Bizoukas, who is 10th in the country in assist-turnover ratio in his first season after transferring from DePaul.
That's not all. Jarmar Gulley and Anthony Downing are junior college transfers who rank third and fourth on the team in scoring.
On Friday, West Virginia will face a Baylor team that made a run in the NCAA tournament last season and is one of only six remaining unbeaten teams in the country. Still, Jones warns not to overlook Missouri State, which plays the game efficiently. The Bears rank ninth in the country in fewest turnovers, 14th in assist-turnover ratio, 15th in field goal percentage defense and 39th in scoring defense.
"I know the game on Friday is the one everybody wants to point to, but we can't overlook Missouri State,'' Jones said. "They are more than capable of beating us.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.