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Is It Time To Panic About West Virginia Basketball?

Following back to back losses after holding double-digit leads, is it time to panic?

The very short answer to the click-bait title is: No. It is not time to panic.

There have been a lot of smoking-hot-takes floating around the internet following a less than ideal weekend for the Mountaineers, who blew two double-digit leads in back-to-back games to fall to 15-3 on the season and 4-2 in Big XII play.

Various reasons are cited for this sharp fall from grace — notably the appearance of Esa Ahmad in the line up and the decline of playing time for Theodore Buckets, Esquire; but that’s just cheap-seat analysis worthy of idiots like Skip Bayless.

It should be noted that plenty of the individuals engaging in this behavior were also writing off the season after this team blew a double-digit lead in Germany against Texas A&M in the season opener.

It was hyperbole then and it is hyperbole now.

For starters, most of these takes are predicated on some idea that the team that won 15 consecutive games was different from the one that has lost two. That something had manifestly changed in the way they played. The numbers and reality don’t bare that out, at all.

For example, WVU’s three-point defense was a major part of Kansas’ comeback. A number people have cited defensive deficiency from Ahmad as a reason, but even before Esa returned, WVU’s three-point FG defense was not good and in fact bad. WVU ranks 184th in the nation in three-point defense allowing teams to score on an average of 34% of their 3 point attempts. That doesn’t happen with just one game. Nor was WVU’s performance in three point defense particularly off that number against Kansas. (Kansas shot 8 of 23 from the 3 pt line, or exactly the season average of 34%.) And against Texas Tech, WVU actually did a decent job, as Tech only shot 26% from three.

Poor shooting in the second half also doomed the Mountaineers, but this is a Mountaineer team that even during the 15-game win streak has struggled, at times, to hit shots. You can do that against inferior opponents, but when you do it against teams like Kansas and Texas Tech you run the risk of losing.

I do understand that the response from a lot of people here is that during some of those slumps, Teddy Allen helped lite sparks and that’s true. He was key in several of WVU’s victories, and with any luck, he’ll continue to be key in victories going forward.

There’s possibly an entire article on the issue of “should Allen have played versus Kansas.” I am not going to write that. Mostly because I think it’s silly, but also because I am not sure it would have mattered. Against Texas Tech, Allen was out of his element. The same thing happened against Baylor. He’s a young guy. Things happen, and for whatever reason, Huggins decided not to play him. Huggins has won 834 games as a head coach at the college level. That’s exactly 834 more wins than me. He’s about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and will almost certainly finish his career in the top 5 of wins all-time. It was his call, and he get’s to make that call. He’s earned that right.

What I will say is that Esa basically filled that void anyway. He played at least as good of defense (if not better) than Allen and contributed offensively with double-digits in both games. Esa, obviously, had some rust at times but again, he more or less slotted in what Allen brings to the table.

I am sure we could go round and round about this, but the simple answer is that the team that lost two games in a row is more or less the same team that won 15-games in a row. Both games came down to a couple of key plays and a few shots not falling (see: Lamont West’s three in the closing 1:30 at Tech) or falling (see: any of the the open threes by Svi Mykhailiuk.) But that was also true against any number of opponents earlier in the season.

More to the point, the season isn’t over. Yes, winning the Big XII regular season title is much harder with a loss at home to Kansas, but there are 12 games remaining, including at date at Kansas. Win there, and you’ve evened it out. (Yes, I know that’s harder than it sounds.) WVU’s also not out of the running for a 1-seed by any measure. And for a little perspective, since 2015 six teams have made the final four after having back-to-back losses, including an eventual national champion.

So, are there things you should be concerned about going forward with the rest of the season? Absolutely. The three-point defense is a problem. The shooting, is a problem at times. (My pet theory here is that WVU’s offense gets worse towards the end of games/halves because of how hard they play on defense, but I’d need to really break it down with play by play stuff to prove that.) But they’re both problems WVU has worked with all season, and will continue to work around.

The Allen-Ahmad situation is a little more complicated. There’s no reason to think that Ahmad’s playing time is going to inversely impact Allen’s going forward (Wes Harris, however might want to look over his shoulder), and Ahmad is going to shake off the rust. Obviously WVU benefits if Allen is able to be in the rotation, but I am simply not convinced the team is drastically changed without him with Ahmad back in the lineup. Maybe I am wrong. I would prefer not to find out, because I actually think Allen has the skills to become a great player.

WVU has two games coming against the bottom half of the conference with Texas at home and TCU on the road. Both teams will likely be without their star guards as Texas’ Andrew Jones undergoes treatment for cancer and TCU’s Jaylen Fischer is out indefinitely with a leg injury suffered in practice this week. If WVU loses either game, you might want to get a little worried. If they lose them both, you can start to actually be worried.