MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–If there is one thing we have learned about the West Virginia Mountaineers 2017 hoops squad it’s this–we have learned absolutely nothing about them.
It is a very weird situation that it is mid-February and WVU (21-6, 9-5 Big 12) has four games remaining in the regular season and not any one person can pinpoint or even remotely predict what the near future holds for this team. Add to the fact that last year the Mountaineers were pretty good in the regular season, advanced to the Big 12 championship game and were dubbed as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament only to get upset in the first round by Stephen F. Austin, a game that many fans are still haunted by to this day.
So what does that mean for this season? Well, not much actually, but coach Bob Huggins’ team is right back in a familiar position–a possible top three conference finish, a top 10-15 ranking and another very good seed in the Big Dance. But let’s be honest, as good as this season seems to be at certain times, it has been an emotional roller coaster and fans’ hearts are more distressed than Dana Holgorsen is with his red bull addiction.
And it all started back in Brooklyn, New York in the Barclays Center during the Thanksgiving Holiday. West Virginia opened up that small tournament with a crushing 89-57 victory over Illinois. In that game, WVU looked dominant with their press and forced a lot of Illini turnovers and had everyone excited. But the next day against Temple, it was a completely different story. Temple could not miss a shot and the Mountaineers seemed lethargic and disinterested. The Owls would take a 20-point lead into halftime only to see it fade away late in the contest, but poor free throw shooting doomed West Virginia and they suffered their first loss of the year.
So the talk began that maybe these Mountaineers were going to be pretenders–still a definite NCAA tournament team–but just not as elite as maybe once thought.
Two games later, that talk quieted and the elite part came back into conversation after a huge road win at the University of Virginia. After beating up on a few weaker teams, WVU opened up Big 12 play at Oklahoma State and controlled the game from start to finish en route to a 92-75 win.
It was back to the sluggish version four nights later when they dropped a game to Texas Tech, a game that was very winnable but lost at the buzzer on a 3-pointer by Anthony Livingston and missed free throws on the other end of the floor. That loss brought back the “here we go again” crowd once more and for good reason.
After a solid win over TCU, WVU faced Baylor, ranked No.1 at the time and undefeated. The Mountaineers dominated that game and forced the Bears into 29 turnovers and won the contest 89-68 and it was not really even that close. A close and ugly win at Texas followed that one in a game in which WVU backup guard Teyvon Myers had to save the day as the team reverted back to the sloppy, sluggish and tired version.
West Virginia moved to No.7 in the rankings the following week with a good chance to jump into the top-5 with two winnable games coming up against struggling Oklahoma and a Kansas State team that was decent.
However, WVU lost both and dropped to No. 18 in the rankings and all fans’ hopes and positive outlooks were shattered that fast.
Get the point?
It has been that way ever since. West Virginia has gotten big wins at home over Kansas and went on the road to Ames, Iowa and just flat out bullied Iowa State in a 13-point win. But after the win in Ames, a home loss to Oklahoma State happened as a result of WVU refusing to play defense but then the Mounties got revenge on Oklahoma in Norman with a stellar defensive effort.
They have had four chances to crack the top-5 and each time they have lost. No one can explain it and everyone has seemingly stopped trying.
When the Mountaineers blew a 14-point lead at Kansas earlier this week, I am sure all West Virginia fans felt anger, sadness and confusion. The hole in my wall and my injured thumb has reminded me since that night that I felt the same way. But how would this team respond? Would they get angry and think about that loss like Huggins wanted them to or would they dwell on it in a negative way and let it dictate the rest of the season?
Well, the Texas Tech game on Saturday, an 83-74 double overtime victory for WVU did not provide an answer. West Virginia led 61-55 with 1:20 on the clock, but turned the ball over at that point and as soon as Texas Tech scored a quick bucket, you could hear a collective gasp from the thousands of fans in attendance. It was the “here we go again” sigh.
Luckily, the Mountaineers escaped but with only four regular season games left, can anyone predict where this team’s season will end?
With the way this crazy season has unfolded, if someone asks if the Mountaineers are going to lose in the first round or win the whole thing, just answer, “yes.”