The once promising West Virginia University men’s basketball season ended with a bit of a nosedive over a week ago with a 75-72 loss to Syracuse in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Mountaineers finished the season with a 19-10 record, but lost four of their last six games. Those losses were to Baylor at home in overtime, Oklahoma State at home by five points, then to OSU again by three points in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament when Sean McNeil’s game tying three pointer didn’t beat the buzzer, and finally the loss to Syracuse. West Virginia’s two wins in that stretch were against TCU and Morehead State.
There is no shame in losing close games to Baylor and Oklahoma State as both teams have proven to be quite good, but WVU let both teams off the hook in home games where a victory was well within reach. Then there is Syracuse that was an 11 seed, and many questioned their worthiness of a NCAA bid after finishing eighth in the ACC. The Orange made 14 of 31 three-point shots to keep the Mountaineers at bay. The common denominator in these close losses is WVU’s inability to make stops on defense.
Offensively the Mountaineers were fun to watch when forced to go to a smaller lineup after Oscar Tshiebwe quit the team after the first semester. While the offensive fireworks were often enjoyable, watching opponents getting easy straight line drive layups and wide-open looks from the three-point line was equally frustrating.
In the aftermath of the season, it appears the Mountaineers will be going through some significant personnel changes. Juniors Emmitt Matthews and Jordan McCabe have announced they will depart the team and enter the transfer portal. Sean McNeil has decided to enter the NBA draft evaluation process. Taz Sherman and Gabe Osabuohien are seniors, but are eligible to return due the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID pandemic. Derek Culver is said to still be weighing his options.
Matthews was a three-year starter so it’s somewhat surprising that he would leave. He’s a native of Tacoma, Washington and there’s a good chance he is headed closer to home. Matthews often showed flashes of being a great player, but lacked the ability to do it consistently.
McCabe started most of his first two seasons and following a fairly successful freshman campaign, he struggled with his shooting over the last two seasons. This season McCabe came off the bench and his playing time dropped significantly. The Wisconsin native will likely end up at a smaller program somewhere.
Sherman and Gabe were both thought to be moving on, but recent social media chatter suggests the door for them to return for the bonus season may still be open. McNeil just doesn’t seem ready for the NBA now, or possibly ever. He’s improved his defense in two seasons in Morgantown, but there is a long way for him to go to defend at the next level. It would be surprising if he isn’t in a Mountaineer uniform next season.