by Jim Buzzerd
We can finally lay the West Virginia University Men’s Basketball season to rest. The Mountaineers beat Kansas State 73-67 in the opener of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City last Wednesday. With the win, WVU advanced to the quarterfinal round against top seeded Kansas and it was never a contest. The Mountaineers fell behind 24-4 in the first 10 minutes and were never a factor in the 87-63 loss. The loss ends a frustrating season and leaves West Virginia with a 16-17 record. After beginning the season at 11-1, the Mountaineers went 5-16 over the final 21 games.
Following the loss head coach Bob Huggins indicated the Mountaineers weren’t finished playing this season. “We’ll get home and have them rest for a day or so and we’ll get back at it and get ready to bring home a trophy,” Huggins said. The only two options he could have been referring to is the 32 team NIT or the 16 team CBI Tournament where schools pay upwards of $50,000 to enter. Last week I suggested in this space that West Virginia could make a case for a NIT invitation with a win over Kansas State.
I was a little off with that suggestion. While I did find out that the NIT no longer required a .500 or better to qualify for the tournament, I did not realize that since the rule changed no team under .500 has been included. The Mountaineers likely needed a competitive showing against Kansas to be considered to become the first team with a losing record in the NIT. Even that may not have been enough.
On Friday word came from the athletic department that WVU would not seek a spot in the CBI, but would participate in the NIT if invited. Huggins said he spoke to the players about continuing the season in a postseason event that was not the NCAA Tournament. They told him they wanted to play. “Anything we can do to represent the state and the people in the state, I’m all for,” he said. I wish I could offer some insight on how the decision not to play in the CBI came down, because it seems as though Huggins clearly wanted to.
The Mountaineers lose five seniors with Kedy Johnson and Sean McNeil having the option to return for another season. Through social media messages there are hints that McNeil may depart and Johnson is considering coming back. There is plenty of chatter suggesting there will be others departing the program as well.
I’m not going to speculate on those players at this time, but the picture should become clear in a few weeks. No matter who stays and who goes, Huggins and staff must do a better job getting players from the transfer portal than they have done thus far. He has openly admitted he dislikes the portal, as do many of us, but it is here for now and Huggins will have to learn to navigate the portal for WVU to be relevant in college basketball moving forward.
A popular suggestion on fan websites, and one I agree with, is for Huggins to shake up his staff by adding some young coaches to improve recruiting and add fresh ideas to the program.