by Jim Buzzerd
Maybe it was me who jinxed the West Virginia University Men’s Basketball Team several weeks ago when I dismissed the notion that the Mountaineers would be a 10-loss team. Yeah, before the season began I would have been happy to sign off on a 20 win regular season. Especially considering this was a team coming off last season’s 21-loss season. But WVU got off to a strong start jumping out to a 14-2 record with losses at St. Johns and Kansas and it looked like coach Bob Huggins had himself a team that could make a good run in March.
Now, the Mountaineers are 19-9 following a disastrous Saturday-Monday trip to Texas, the team looks like a ship without a rudder. They have now lost five of their last six games including Saturday’s overtime loss at TCU and Monday night’s loss at Texas. Those two losses are particularly disturbing because a little over a month ago WVU defeated TCU by 32 points and Texas by 38 points in Morgantown. How does that happen? That’s two losses to teams that likely won’t make the tournament.
Looking at this team now after 28 games compared to the team after 18 games is like night and day. It’s possible West Virginia has done enough already to make the NCAA tournament, but that is no consolation to this fan. They sure don’t look worthy at this point. There are three games left in the regular season. West Virginia is at home against Oklahoma this Saturday, 4 p.m. on ESPN2, at Iowa State next Tuesday, at 9 p.m. on either ESPN2 or ESPNU and WVU finishes with Baylor at home next Saturday.
A month ago I wasn’t concerned about winning any of those games, figured the Mountaineers would close out strong. After watching the last nine or 10 games I’m not sure the Mountaineers are better than 50-50 to win any of the remaining three. Of course, one can hope for the Mountaineers to snap out of their slump. I thought the three game stretch of OSU, TCU and Texas, would provide that opportunity, so optimism now hardly seems realistic.
The elephant in the room is the question of what happened to this team?
Huggins has alluded to player’s attitudes have changed. A typical quote from Huggins; “They’re different dudes, they’re not the same guys. They’re not those same guys that when you talk to them everybody had their eyes on you listening.” It’s hard to point to one thing, but the coach bears some of the responsibility as well.
The strategy of pounding the ball inside to Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe that worked well earlier in the season has not been as successful lately, because opposing coaches have made it tougher to do. Of course the best way to counteract that is to make teams pay with outside shooting. WVU does struggle to make shots, but sometimes there are five guys on the court that have very little chance of making one.