It was just a few weeks ago yours truly was ready to order a casket for the 2012-13 version of the West Virginia University men’s basketball team. In particular, it was following a 79-52 loss to a mediocre Purdue team when West Virginia fell to 8-9 and just looked lifeless in general. The thinking at that time was that the Mountaineers would be fortunate to just have a winning record and be eligible to play in the NIT post-season event. Any thought of a sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament field was a foolish thought at best.
No, that paragraph is not some kind of build up to suggest that head coach Bob Huggins has turned the season around and the Mountaineers are heading toward a place in the post season. Well, it kind of is that, actually.
West Virginia is coming off three straight wins over Texas Tech, Texas and TCU. To be clear, WVU is now 5-5 in the Big 12 and all five of those wins have come at the expense of those three teams and the Mountaineers have yet to win against any of the six teams ahead of them. That is no reason for anyone to get their hopes up, but there have been some subtle changes in the team chemistry that could be taken as a sign of hope.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game at Baylor the Mountaineers are 12-11 and back on track for a NIT spot which is not nearly the same as a NCAA berth, but it is progress.
Probably the best reason to be optimistic about the team moving forward is the continued improvement and consistency being developed by freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. Each has been able to step out and hit the three point shot for the Mountaineers and, as one would expect, the threat of a couple three point shooters on the court has created opportunities for everyone else.
Despite playing fewer minutes than the other “shooters,” Harris has made 30 threes and Henderson 28 with the next closest being Jabarie Hinds with 17. Now Hinds has more room to create off the dribble and Deniz Kilicli has been more effective since defenses haven’t been able to clog the middle with extra bodies. What was sorely missing at one point in the season is now developing.
Still, we are hanging a lot of hope on a couple of freshmen and while they continue to progress, periods of inconsistency will continue at some level.
And the NCAA?
Well, that still seems to be a pipedream. It is hard to envision this team winning eight games to reach 20 wins with only eight regular season games and a conference tournament remaining. Probably the only way the Mountaineers could make the NCAA is to win the Big 12 Tournament in March, which would mean going to Kansas City and winning four or five games in a row. Still a huge long shot, but where the odds for WVU to pull that off a month ago might have been 150-1, they could be 50-1 today.
Those figures are the guess of an amateur, but the point is WVU is much more likely to impact the conference tournament today than they were a month ago. In a month from now, who knows?