One year ago, West Virginia put an utterly unwatchable product on the floor. Notoriously, I would spend Monday nights live tweeting The Bachelor instead of that week’s featured blow out road loss. I don’t think Bob Huggins would have blamed me. It was a joyless slog of a season with a team headlined by players who had inexplicably absorbed nothing from two or more years spent in the same room as Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles (and no, this does not include Sagaba Konate).
Yes, they ended the year on an upswing after the aforementioned players were, in the words of Fran Fraschilla, jettisoned into oblivion. All that upswing provided, however, was hope. Hope — and to a realistic mindset — a two year timeline to real competitiveness.
Thankfully, Bob Huggins’ best teams rarely operate under a realistic mindset. And yet here we are after an infusion of the program’s first five star since Devin Ebanks, another under-recruited guard from the Midwest, and and unwavering devotion to their future Hall of Famer coach’s plan to — for the second time since joining the Big 12 — fix it. This team is, at the most minimal level, a year early. A top 15 national ranking and top five rankings in both KenPom and Sagarin seem impossible less than a year removed from the worst West Virginia basketball product since the pre-John Beilein dark ages in the twilight of Gale Catlett’s career.
What wasn’t accounted for was this season: the most wide open season of college basketball in recent memory. A bundle of flawed teams at the top, no transcendent NBA ready freshmen waiting to dominate in March, and endless questions about who can emerge from it all in March. After a thorough dismantling of TCU — far and away West Virginia’s best two way performance of the season — I’m prepared to finally come out and ask “Why not us?”
Press Virginia always seemed to have a Sweet 16 cap. Seeding issues, a great player able to break the press and force us to defend and play offense in the half court, the barrier existed and was agonizing. In this NCAA season, with this team, I’m prepared to believe that the barrier is broken and allow myself to feel the worst emotion: hope.
West Virginia sports, at the end of of the day, is hope. We are eternally Charlie Brown trying to kick the football to break through our limit of the “good but not great” program who will always be the bridesmaid. We try to squash it, to always feel underrated, underappreciated, the David against Goliath. It’s the West Virginia way.
With this team, in this ugly, strange season seemingly tailor-made for Bob Huggins team to make a run, don’t squash it. Recognize that this is a team that just may be functionally unbeatable if they can score 70 points, and embrace that mindset. It’s not a team who’s fate will be determined by their draw, they’re good enough to take the tournament by their own hands and run with it. Allow this team to feel that you believe that it can, without question, win those six games in March and let Bob Huggins take a trophy from Weirton to Welch, Martinsburg and Matewan, and all points in between.
I realize it goes against every fiber of your being as a West Virginia fan, but go try to kick the football. You have been hurt before. I have been hurt before. But savor every second of this team because, without question, they can be the one that makes the hurt worth it.