Last season, West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins made a promise to Mountaineer Nation, “I think I can fix it. I’ve fixed it before and when I couldn’t fix it, I cut it out. Its not fair to everybody else. That’s why they call it a team. We’ll fix it or we’ll cut it out”. Well at the end of the 2018-19 season, Huggins cut nearly everyone on the team. Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris were unceremoniously released midway through the season, Sagaba Konate was gone to the NBA, Beetle Bolden, Trey Doomes, Lamont West and Andrew Gordon all sought transfers to other schools.
The result was a large influx of new talent. In came shooters like Sean McNeil and Miles McBride. A large recruiting effort brought in five-star Oscar Tshiebwe. He even got a former SEC Arkansas Razorback in Gabe Osabuohien.
At first, all of the new talent seemed to work. The Mountaineers got off to a hot start, compiling a 11-1 record including a decisive 67-59 victory over then #2 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Mountaineers were sitting pretty and looking like a dark horse Big 12 contender. Not only were they winning, but they were winning with great defense. The Mountaineers were skewing teams scoring averages by just flat out denying them chances to score.
Then the calendar turned over. Big 12 play started and the Mountaineers lost to Kansas in Phog Allen. No big deal because teams lose all the time there and the ball seemingly bounces to Kansas in mysterious ways. West Virginia would go on to win their next 3 Big 12 games by an average score of 67-48.
After their 81-49 win against Jamie Dixon and TCU Horned Frogs, something changed in the Mountaineers. They traveled to Manhattan, Kansas to take on the Wildcats and lost 84-67. Kansas State made 50% of their 3-point shots (9-18) and 17 of their 25 free throws. The Mountaineers began to struggle to score more than they had, shooting only 27% behind the arc and making only 50% of their free throws.
Games against Texas and Missouri were temporary bandaids to long term wounds. The same shooting woes showed up again when the Mountaineers took on the Red Raiders. Another dismal shooting performance from behind the arc. Still at the time, West Virginia was 16-4 and while they wouldn’t win the Big 12, they still had a solid resume and seemed to be headed in the right direction.
The month of February hasn’t been kind. It started out right with wins over Kansas State and Iowa State but since the first weekend the Mountaineers have six of their past 7 games with only a loss against TCU being in the single digits. Nearly all of the losses have been the same. Poor shooting from three-point land and mediocre shooting from the charity stripe.
The post game comments have become repetitive. “We don’t make shots” Huggins will say. “I don’t know why”. Following the loss to Texas on Monday, Huggins would issue a damning statement “That’s up to them [to turn this slide around]. I can’t make them. We’re so over legislated in men’s basketball that I can’t do hardly anything. We are terribly over legislated”.
No, its not up to the players. This is why a head coach gets paid millions of dollars. This is why a head coach gets all the accolades of being a potential, soon-to-be, Hall of Famer. This is why people continue to gloss over the poor performances and point to the Final Four run that is now 10 years in the past and the recent run of three Sweet Sixteens in a four-year period. It is no longer up to the players. It is time to stop forgiving all of the sins of the head coach and blaming the players for everything. As the head coach, Huggins needs to fix this.
There are two games left in the season. West Virginia currently sits sixth in the Big 12 and needs to win out just to finish .500 in conference (currently they are 7-9). Two losses would put the Mountaineers at 7-11 in conference and could see them slip all the way to 9th in conference.
The month of February is over and if fixes are coming, they need to come quickly.