The Road Ends for West Virginia, But What a Trip It Was
This past weekend I made the trip up to Indianapolis with a few friends for the Final Four with the intentions of being there to witness West Virginia finally get to the National Championship.
While we were eating before the game, we were talking about how this was one of the top five greatest days of our lives because, let's face it, we weren't going to lose to Duke.
We were more athletic, we defended better, we had the most clutch big-game player in the country in Da'Sean Butler.
Before the WVU game, my friend who sat in the student seats with me decided that we should upgrade from our seats for the Butler-Michigan State game to some empty seats in a better spot.
Talk about excited.
I was at the Final Four actually getting to see the Mountaineers play in it. It was a dream 18-and-a-half years in the making come true.
Unfortunately getting a better view of the game meant that I also got a better view of Butler going down with what turned out to be a torn ACL.
After I pulled my head away from my hands, the first thing that I saw when I looked up was the huge sign that covered the wall of Lucas Oil Stadium that read, "The Road Ends Here".
The game had been over for awhile before that, but that was the moment that it sunk in. The run is over, we weren't going to win.
And it wasn't like we lost because of that injury, or because we weren't hitting shots. It wasn't even because of the officiating (although, in my opinion, they weren't entirely helpful).
The Mountaineers just got beat.
Duke didn't miss. WVU not getting a hand in the shooter's face about 65 percent of the time didn't help their cause much, but the Blue Devils were absolutely lights out.
Singler, Scheyer, Smith.
Those were the three guys that you knew that the Mountaineers couldn't let beat them. Personally, I would've rather seen Zoubek or the Plumlees beat us than the three guys that we had a week to prepare to stop.
One thing that I really don't like to do is criticize coaches, especially the ones on the level of Bob Huggins.
I'm not a Hall of Fame coach and I haven't led two teams to the Final Four, obviously. But on Saturday night, I just didn't quite understand what he was doing with his substitutions.
This season, the times that we have done the best have been the times that Huggs went nine and sometimes even 10 guys deep with the rotation. The times they've struggled, they only used seven or eight.
On Saturday, West Virginia did the latter, and boy did they struggle.
Not only did they use less players than usual, the rotation of the players that they used during the game was surprisingly switched up.
The three names that come to mind with that are Deniz Kilicli, Cam Thoroughman, and Casey Mitchell.
All season when we have needed a couple big defensive stops, Thoroughman has always been the guy that Huggins has brought in.
Cam went from playing about eight to 10 minutes a game, to getting one minute in the Final Four game.
So, let me get this straight. A guy who's been one of our better defensive players in the post, doesn't get into the game that we probably could've used him a lot in.
Meanwhile, since he has become eligible to play in the Pitt game in Morgantown, Kilicli has gone into the game to be an offensive—not a defensive —spark.
Last Saturday, we were making a run and had cut the lead to six or so. This would be a decent time to, if you're going to make a sub, bring in one of our guys that can be defensive stoppers.
In comes the Turk.
He came right in, immediately hit his soon-to-be trademarked jump hook, the crowd goes crazy. It's the same stuff that usually happens. But this time, things after that bucket started going a little downhill.
His next shot, another jump hook, was an airball. He made two turnovers, committed a foul, and by the time he came out, the deficit had gone to 14.
Not one of his best days.
What confused me about this, other than why Kilicli was struggling, was the fact that when Huggs, who usually keeps his players (especially the bigs) on a short leash as far as mistakes go, saw Deniz struggle like this he didn't pull him for Thoroughman, Flowers, or someone that was more fresh.
And then there's Casey Mitchell.
The former Junior College Player of the Year who began the season in the starting five, after a few games saw himself planted on the end of the bench, and when it was time for WVU's big run in March, had started playing well again and looked like he was going to be a huge factor off the bench against Duke.
Or so I thought.
He played five minutes in the game and finished with two points, coming off of free throws.
Truthfully I'm not really that surprised that Mitchell didn't get in. For the most part the offense wasn't playing bad at all (I don't know how many times we've shot 50 percent in the first half) and we really needed guys to play defense, which is not one of Casey's strong points.
Now that that's done with, time to get away from that negative crap and finish this thing up.
After the game, we waited for a cab for about an hour and a half. I don't think I said more than five or six words that whole time.
It wasn't all because I was mad about the loss. I think it was just because I didn't know what to say.
This team has been so important to everyone in the state and the school. They brought us all so much joy.
As coach Huggins stressed so much throughout the season, they were special .
The buzzer beaters, the championships, the Twitter videos. They weren't only the most talented team that we've had since I can remember, they were the most memorable.
Let's just say that I wouldn't wait outside of the Bridgeport airport freezing cold for four hours for just any team to get off the plane and drive by us on their bus.
But even with all of the joy that this run in the tournament has given myself, and the rest of Mountaineer Nation, I think that I would give it up for Da'Sean Butler to be healthy.
The great thing about Da' is that he wouldn't do it.
That's what's great about this whole team in general. It's one thing for a team to go out and take care of business, but these guys were doing this for the state, to show something to all the people who make fun of this state.
They gave us hope and they knew how much they meant to us. That's the thing that made these guys stand out the most.
While we were waiting for the cab, those were the things that were running through my mind. All the things that this team had gone through this year. The good (Big East Tourney, Elite Eight game), the bad (Purdue game), the ugly (Final Four, the injury).
But I think that that's what being a sports fan is all about. That complete range of emotions that a team can make you go through throughout the course of a season. They make you laugh, they make you cry (and in this team's case, sometimes cry from laughing), and if you're lucky enough they'll do what this team did and give you a couple of months that you will never forget.
It was a great ride. All we can do is hope next year only gets better.
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