The West Virginia Mountaineers may be the No. 9 team in the nation with a 17-3 record and a 6-2 record in the Big East, but this success hasn’t been nearly as pretty as coach Bob Huggins would like it to be, that’s for sure.
They’ve been able to squeak out games against Cleveland State and Marquette thanks to two shots in the closing seconds by senior Da’Sean Butler, and on Saturday, they fought back from a deficit to beat another unranked opponent, this time it was conference foe Louisville by a final score of 77-74.
WVU also got off to bad starts against Notre Dame, Purdue, and Syracuse that ended up resulting in their three losses of the season. It seems that even in the games that they end up winning, there always is a stretch where they let the opponent either extend their lead, get back into the game to make it close, or sometimes even take back the lead.
Two examples of this would be Saturday’s win over the Cardinals and their second conference game of the season against Seton Hall.
Against the Pirates, heading into the final minutes of the game West Virginia held a 10-point lead and the game looked to be over.
That was until their minute of self-destruction and the Hall’s Jeremy Hazell decided to turn into Stephen Curry and they ended up tying the game. Up 10 with one minute left and they come back and send it to overtime, that’s the kind of stuff that Mountaineer fans have had to go through.
Then on Saturday, ESPN’s Mike Patrick and Doris Burke, who were covering the game for the network, continually brought up in the pregame show how important it was for West Virginia to come out strong at the beginning of the first half to keep the momentum in their favor.
Out of the gates, it looked like they got the broadcasters message loud and clear, starting the game on a 13-0 run. Somehow by halftime, we had managed to lose the lead and not get it back until the final minutes of the game. Two controversial calls that prompted Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to criticize officials afterward and Huggins’ boys came out with another close win.
If the Mountaineers are ever going to get things straightened out and start playing 40 solid minutes of basketball instead of the 20 or 25 that they have been playing as of late, now is the perfect time.
West Virginia has the first of two huge matchups with No. 22 Pitt on Wednesday at the Coliseum and will be getting an added boost in the frontcourt as freshman Deniz Kilicli (pronounced Kill-itch-la) will be making his first appearance of his Mountaineer career after serving a 20-game suspension.
Then next week brings a Big Monday faceoff between West Virginia and No. 2 Villanova before the Mountaineers travel to the Petersen Event Center for their second game against Pitt.
From there, I don’t really need to tell you that the schedule remains hard, after all it’s the Big East, the conference where you can’t afford to take a night off...blah, blah, blah all the other things you’ve heard said night after night by the experts.
But it is true, the conference has become one of the best all-around conferences, maybe even the best, in all of America. I’m sure that Bob Huggins knows that his team can’t go out and play one good half of basketball and expect to win a lot of games down the stretch and in the Big East Tournament.
Over the course of the season, we’ve seen the Mountaineers take a half or so off against teams like South Florida, Notre Dame, DePaul, and Cleveland State; and they’ve paid for it.
Now DePaul and Providence may not be up to par with the Syracuse and Villanova’s of the world, but they aren’t Loyola or The Citadel either.
Like it’s been played out on ESPN over and over, any team can win any game in the Big East and 40 minutes of mediocre basketball might be able to sneak up and upset 20 minutes of great basketball on some nights.