To be honest, the response isn't the least bit surprising.
"Esa's ruining everything! Teddy's ruining everything! Why can't we shoot!? Why don't we care!?! WHAT'S WRONG WITH US!?!?"
And I get it. We're an exceptionally reactionary fanbase even as fanbases go, and 3 L's out of 4 is a tough pill to swallow regardless of context. But that doesn't make the context any less important. Let's take a step back and try to gain some perspective about where we are right now. I promise there's no reason to panic - yet.
Starting with the big picture, it's hard to find to much to complain about in 2018. We’re 16-4 overall and 4-3 in the conference, and if we get some help from Oklahoma tonight we’re still right in the thick of the Big 12 title race in late January. How many of you would’ve said “No” to that scenario if it was offered to you in October?
The stretch we’re in is particularly brutal, as well. #4 Oklahoma (with arguably the most talented player in the country), Baylor (massive size advantage), at #8 Texas Tech (ditto), #10 Kansas (is Kansas), Texas (see Texas Tech, Baylor), at TCU (5 losses by a combined 16 points), and Kentucky (super young but super talented). I know that there are few, if any, off nights in the Big 12, but did anyone really expect us to come through that gauntlet unscathed? Ask yourself objectively: what was reasonable to expect from those 7 games? If your answer was 7-0, get out; you’re either lying or stupid. 6-1 or 5-2 would’ve been awesome, but 4-3 was probably always more realistic, right? Well, if we beat Kentucky this weekend that’s right where we’ll be.
As for these recent losses, the Texas Tech game followed a script similar to most of our matchups over the last few years. They may have been the beneficiaries of some questionable first half officiating, which helped keep them in the game early, and they definitely had an unseasonably warm outing at the free throw line, which helped them put away us away down the stretch, but they're also an uber-athletic Top 15 team that’s always played us extremely tough, especially in Lubbock. Definitely a bummer that we couldn't get over the line there, but not a bad loss by any means.
A little over 48 hours later we lost to Kansas. Is it disappointing that we squandered a 16-point lead and the single most dominant half of individual defensive basketball that I've ever seen? Absolutely. The game was right there for us, at home, and we let it get away. Then again, we had just traveled 1400 miles and had to play on one day's rest - is it maybe a tiny bit understandable that we ran out of gas down the stretch? And this is not to excuse blowing a lead like that, because that should never happen, especially at home, but it atleast explains why we seemed to have trouble closing out on them in the second half.
Last night was a similar story - traveling halfway across the country on no rest - and it showed. We just didn't have our legs under us. We weren't boxing out, we weren't closing out, we were committing tired fouls, and we were missing shots the way tired legs do. I think it was without a doubt our worst game of the year, but again, should that kind of performance be totally unexpected considering the circumstances? The answer, it turns out, is no.
Mike Casazza ran with Huggs' suggestion to “look at our record on Monday after we’ve played a hard game on Saturday,” and it was predictably shit. We're already 0-2 in those situations this year and are just 3-4 in them over the last three years, and you don't have to strain yourself too hard to figure out why - it's really tough to score on jetlagged legs, let alone press effectively. Factor in the quality of the opponents and there's a recipe for disaster.
However, history also suggests there's reason to expect a big response on Saturday. Casazza's work inspired me to do some research of my own, and I found that we're 7-0 over that same period in Saturday games following Monday games, including the beatdowns against Oklahoma and Texas earlier this year.
So for now, let's r-e-l-a-x. Let's relax. The sky is not falling. We simply lost to a couple of very good teams under circumstances that would cause problems for every squad in America. The reality is that our 2018 West Virginia Mountaineers are still very much the group we've become accustomed to - we're undoubtedly flawed and can find a way to lose to just about anybody, but we're still not a team that anybody looks forward to playing. And we're going to be just fine.
Unless, of course, we lose Saturday.