At the risk of putting the ole jinx on the Mountaineers I will have to say the team is coming along quite nicely.
Those words appeared in the first paragraph of this column on January 25. That night, the favored West Virginia University Basketball Team played one of its worst games of the year in a 78-62 loss to St. John’s. Since that little jinx reference the Mountaineers have lost five of six games and seen their record plummet from 15-5 to 16-10. That free fall has taken West Virginia from a solid NCAA tournament pick, to a team that is quite possibly on the outside looking in.
Just when I buy in to the young WVU team and think that the freshman-laden team will bypass many of the projected growing pains, reality sets in.
With nine new faces on the Mountaineer roster it probably wasn’t realistic to expect a great season out of this team. An NCAA tournament bid was about as much as anyone could hope for, and that seemed unreasonable.
Then the team got off to a 15-5 start that included a couple games where some questionable officiating hurt the Mountaineers. It was logical to conclude the record could be even better. The recent losing trend doesn’t really fall directly onto the freshmen. Senior guard Truck Bryant has been very cold of late. He scored 32 points in an overtime win at Providence then did not score in a 55-51 loss to Notre Dame.
Junior Deniz Kilicli picked up a foolish technical foul in the first half of the Louisville game that forced him to the bench for a 15-minute stretch. Kilicli was having his way with the Cardinals front line at the time. Of course the freshmen make mistakes, but the veterans are not helping out as much as they could.
It would seem that WVU still needs to win at least three of five games to be considered for a selection to the NCAA field. Making that task even harder is the prospect of going on the road for three of those contests. That includes a trip to Pittsburgh this Thursday and to South Bend next Wednesday, two teams the Mountaineers have lost to at home. The current three game home losing streak is as perplexing as anything. Losses to Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville have been the type of games the Mountaineers put away, but the Mountaineers are giving up late leads at home.
I’m not typically prone to blaming the officiating for a team’s losses because I figure the calls even out over the course of a game, but WVU might be getting more than its share of calls going against them this season. The conspiracy theorists will tell you that it is because of West Virginia’s suit to get out of the Big East. I’m not really buying that, but those that are can make a good argument.
As for the suit, word leaked last Friday that WVU and the Big East had reached an agreement in the case and that WVU would be leaving the Big East and playing in the Big 12 next season. As of early Monday evening there has been no official announcement confirming that news. It is expected that the announcement will be at any time and should be accompanied by the Big 12 football schedule.