The 2019-2020 season for West Virginia men’s basketball has seemed more like the tale of two campaigns.
Before embarking on their conference schedule, the Mountaineers were one of the up and coming teams in college basketball. With a double-digit win total and a major upset over No. 2 Ohio State in that stretch, West Virginia was scoring 74.8 points per game with a 43.8 percent clip from the field. Their bread-and-butter was at the other end of the floor, though, holding teams to just 62 points and 35.9 percent shooting.
Ever since Big 12 play began in January, though, things have changed. It shows up in the numbers: in conference play, WVU averages 8 fewer points, makes 2.7 percent fewer shots, and give up an extra turnover every game.
The competition always gets tougher when conference season starts, but Bob Huggins notices his squad being different.
“In all honesty…we’re not the same team,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins after their loss to Texas. “We’re not as hungry for knowledge, we’re not in the gym as much, we’re not working at our craft the way that we did early on.”
After holding a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament just weeks ago, the Mountaineers dropped to a projected 5-seed in the latest bracketology from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Even that is subject to change after Monday’s loss.
“Huggs said we’re at a crossroads now,” said guard Jordan McCabe. “We were at a crossroads a couple of games back and we decided to not go one way, and now we’re here kind of fighting for our lives once again.”
With just three games left in the regular season, time is running out. The loss to Texas bumped the Mountaineers to 7-8 in conference play, which ties them with the Longhorns. WVU now sits just a game above sixth in the Big 12, and if they keep going down, they jeopardize a conference tournament first round bye.
Having entered last season’s conference tournament as the bottom seed, that advantage is not something the Mountaineers want to let slip.
“We know from last year what it’s like to play that many games in the conference tournament and we don’t want to be in that same position,” McCabe continued. “So we’re going to have to regroup, get ready to be back on our home floor and get back to doing what we do.”
McCabe and the Mountaineers are confident they can get back on track, but there’s no doubt they need to make some improvements.
As the year has gone on, many of their weaker areas have seen noticeable deterioration rather than improvement. For Huggins, this knowledge paired with his observations of his “not the same” team may mean his players need to look at their mentality.
“They’re all pros,” he said with a bit of sarcasm. “I said, ‘Now, you understand they play  games, you haven’t played 20 yet, and you’re tired. You’re gonna be without a job.'”