Hanging by a thread?
by Jim Buzzerd
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team put their spot in this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament in jeopardy by blowing an eight point second half lead and losing 78-72 to Texas Tech. The Mountaineers beat Tech in Lubbock 76-61 on January 25 which remains as the only Big 12 road win for WVU over two seasons. Heading into the regular season’s final five games the general thought was if West Virginia could win its three remaining home games they would be in the NCAA field.
To the Mountaineer’s credit they did rebound from Saturday’s loss with an 85-67 win over Oklahoma State Monday night that would seem to keep WVU in the hunt for a tournament bid. Of course, all of that is speculative and based on various bracketology’s that like WVU’s metrics despite a 16-12 overall record and a 5-10 conference slate.
If 18 wins is the bar West Virginia needs to attain to make the NCAA field, that means winning either at Kansas this Saturday or at Iowa State Monday night, and of course holding serve in the season finale against Kansas State on March 4 in the Coliseum. It’s impossible to know how the selection committee would look at WVU if it took a win in the Big 12 tournament to reach 18 wins. Again, 18 wins is not a guarantee.
The Mountaineers find themselves here because of yet another second half collapse Saturday at home against Texas Tech. Poor second half performances have plagued WVU all season. Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins said, “When we got the eight-point lead, we had some guys relax. I don’t think they took it as much. How do you explain a guy on the inside not even moving on the foul line to block out the guy next to him? I can’t explain that.”
“You cannot talk to them, show them or drill them anymore than we did that we need to win these games if you want to continue to play in the postseason,” Huggins said. “We can’t do it anymore. What else do I do? We get out-rebounded 39-26 and that’s almost directly opposite of what happened at their place [when WVU won the battle of the boards, 44-27]. How do you explain that? Same guys. I don’t have the answers.”
There is a growing portion of vocal fans questioning the tenure of Huggins despite his deserved Hall of Fame status. Simply looking at his 33-52 Big 12 record over five seasons would lend credence to their concerns. Factor in a salary north of $4 million a year creates even more concern. His quotes above are typical in that he points the finger at his players regularly. While the players are certainly culpable, Huggins is the guy who is responsible for them being on the team. Think of it this way, the Mountaineers have a chance to finish in last place in the Big 12 for the third time in five seasons.
West Virginia is at Kansas this Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN at Iowa State Monday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN2. This makes the third consecutive Saturday-Monday combination.