With a 16-4 record, an undefeated mark at home and the No. 12 ranking next to their name, it is easy at times to forget that West Virginia is the youngest team in the Big 12.
That is, until they play on the road. The Mountaineers most recent 89-81 defeat against Texas Tech officially puts the squad at a losing record on the road, with all four losses coming away from home.
Almost all of West Virginia’s losses have come after big victories. The Mountaineers win games by an average of 15.5 points before every loss, and one of those victories came against the second-ranked team in the nation on a neutral court.
“I feel like once we get to winning a couple games and seeing the season going better than last year, I kind of feel like we seem like we’ve made it or we’ve arrived,” said sophomore forward Derek Culver. “But that ain’t the case.”
It’s easy to look at their inexperience to assign blame. Bob Huggins starts three sophomores, a freshman and a senior (who is in his second year of Division I basketball). Beyond that, an additional four first-year Mountaineers are averaging double-digit minutes, so there is still a learning curve for much of the roster.
Even outside of games, that learning curve is becoming apparent.
“This is our 20th game. Well, [freshman Oscar Tshiebwe’s] high school season would be over now, and now he’s looking, and holy cow we’ve got 12 more games, and the conference tournament, and hopefully an NCAA Tournament,” Huggins said. “It’s a lot longer year, and that’s why I laugh all the time when they’re like, ‘Well you know coach, I’m tired.’ But you’re a pro, right?…You’re gonna play, how many, 86 [games], and when you’re in the playoffs you’re gonna end up playing 100 games, and you’re tired now?”
The Mountaineers know that’s not an excuse for their losses. Instead, Huggins pointed to several things that they did wrong, regardless of their age or experience.
“[Texas Tech] beat us to every loose ball. I mean, they beat us to every 50-50 ball they got. They kicked our butts on the glass, and that should never, ever happen with those guys that we have,” Huggins said. “And consequently, they got more shots, and they made shots. We didn’t make shots. It’s kind of amazing to me, honestly, that we stayed in the game because we weren’t very good.”
His players agree. After all, many of the Mountaineers’ best individual performances in losses have come from their youngest players.
If they want a Big 12 Championship, though, they’ll likely need to win out the season — and it won’t take just individual performances
“We have a lot of young guys that play, but it’s not really just on them, it’s us as a whole,” said junior guard Taz Sherman. “As a whole, we didn’t come together as a group and play a whole 40 minutes like we usually do.”