It’s no secret that this season hasn’t exactly gone the way that most people — Bob Huggins, included — had planned for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Projected to finish third in the Big 12 preseason poll, the Mountaineers were dealt blow after blow on their way to finishing last in the regular season. After a rocky 8-4 start to the season that was highlighted by a 69-59 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers, things took a downhill turn and continued to careen out of control through the Mountaineers’ Big 12 conference schedule.
Junior star Sagaba Konate was sidelined with a knee injury following the win over Pitt, and sat out the last 22 games of the regular season. West Virginia would win just four of those 22 games. Junior point guard James Bolden was plagued with injury after injury — sidelining him in January — before ultimately announcing that he will be transferring out of the program. Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris were dismissed from the team in early February, leaving the Mountaineers without their top four stars. Everything was in shambles.
Through all of the struggles, Huggins and what was left of the Mountaineer program persevered and pressed on. Though they won just four games in Big 12 Conference play, we saw a core of first-year talent emerge and give the West Virginia program a much needed shot in the arm.
Tonight, as they take on the No. 7 seed Oklahoma Sooners in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament, that core consisting of Derek Culver, Jordan McCabe, Jermaine Haley and Emmitt Matthews Jr. will join Lamont West in the starting lineup one more time, and they’ll have a lofty goal in mind — fight their way to a Big 12 Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Though it will be an extremely uphill battle, it is the only way for the Mountaineers to avoid missing out on The Dance. A loss tonight, or anything short of the Big 12 championship win on Saturday, will send West Virginia back to Morgantown and likely into the CBI Tournament — a buy-in tournament for teams that fall short of the NCAA and NIT tournaments.