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West Virginia Basketball: The Uphill Battle for March Madness Contention

Bob Huggins

West Virginian University Men’s Basketball started the New Year as a top-25-ranked team, but it didn’t last long, as WVU now faces a mountain to climb to push themselves back into NCAA Tournament contention.  

The West Virginia Mountaineers had a terrible 2021/22 season, ending their schedule with a 16-17 record and a ranking that placed them outside the top 65. Worriedly, they finished 10th in the Big 12 with a 4-14 record.  

This forced the Hall of Fame WVU head coach Bob Huggins to make substantial roster adjustments. In fact, West Virginia saw the return of one essential play – Kedrian Johnson – as a complete overhaul was underway.  

WVU made several additions to the squad through the transfer portal, and multiple JUCO players played at a high level in Junior College. A handful of freshmen were added, and the rest was left to Huggins’ experience.  

An Entirely Different Team for the 2022/23 Season  

WVU had seemingly made some excellent choices regarding roster selection. They started the regular season with four consecutive wins, ending 2022 behind an impressive 10-2 record.  

Huggins and company were looking towards March, as the NCAA Tournament was almost guaranteed with their unstoppable form.  

The previous season sparked many questions, and typically when a rebuild is in place, it takes a season or two for teams to adjust. However, WVU defied their pre-season odds of +20000 to win the NCAA Championship by slicing that number in half by the end of December 2022. Virginia sports betting and its bettors had hope, as the cash out for future bets on WVU was boosted into profit due to the team’s 10-2 streak.  

Many believed the young and inexperienced team would struggle, but they proved critics wrong and had been cashing tickets at the sportsbook for three consecutive months. Unfortunately, the saying ‘good things don’t last forever’ arrived too soon, as the beginning of 2023 delivered a horrid run for Huggins and WVU.  

New Year, New Problems  

The 2023 New Year saw WVU suffer five consecutive defeats as the team took a complete U-turn in form. However, solace can be found in their efforts, and unlike the season past, where scoring was the primary issue, WVU wasn’t blown out during this losing streak and contended well with some high-ranked teams.  

Interestingly, Huggins didn’t seem worried about such losses. He’s usually a coach disappointed after defeat; this wasn’t the case following their one-point loss to Oklahoma last week, a game that marked their fifth straight loss of 2023.  

“I thought we did a better job taking care of the ball,” Huggins commented. “We didn’t have much time to prepare, and I thought our guys did a great job of changing. We’ve been playing point-drop, which is a one-guard front. We went back to playing 1-2-2, where we could do multiple things. I thought that turned the game around and got us the ball. Our guys competed.”  

This result became their fourth conference game loss by seven or fewer points, so while concerns are evident, minor adjustments could soon fix these issues.  

The team parted ways with assistant coach Larry Harrison ahead of the Oklahoma game; he had been alongside Huggins’ for over two decades. But with a 0-5 Big 12 record, DerMarr Johnson was ushered in.  

“The decision to change our basketball staff was difficult,” Huggins said. “Larry and I have worked together for 24 years and shared great moments. The decision was made in the best interest of Mountaineer basketball.”  

Did Johnson arrive at WVU with some beginner’s luck, or has he instantly made an impact? WVU broke their losing streak when capturing their first Big 12 Conference win this past Wednesday with a 74-65 upset win over No.14 TCU Horned Frogs.   

Wednesday’s success is a sigh of relief, and as many speculated, Huggins’ job could be on the hot seat; he’s undoubtedly brought himself a lifeline with this bounce-back win.  

Despite the hearsay, Huggins’ has turned this team around and displayed his expertise in college ball. Unless this team rides another five or six-game losing streak, there’s no reason to discuss his dismissal. And given the current fight of WVU, don’t be surprised if the TCU win is the beginning of a hot streak and potential qualification into March Madness.  

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