So that happened just about one basketball year ago. Up by 11 points at halftime against a top-10 team benching three starters for the first half and then up 15 in the second half at home before a sellout crowd, WU lost to Marquette before Bob Huggins went deep in the postgame.
Remember that? Remember how eye-opening that was? We’d never seen something quite like it. It made us ask questions about how far a coach can go, whether for motivation or out of desperation.
Well, it’s happened on some scale, what, five or six or 10 times this season and as recently as Saturday. What’s striking is not that we have back-to-back seasons with the same rhetoric as much as it is that we have back-to-back seasons with the things that inspire such rhetoric.
Following that loss a year ago – by the way, read that and tell me it didn’t happen this year — Huggins said, among so many things:
“What I feel like is going in there for three hours and just running the absolute you-know-what out of them and making them stand there and take charges and making them dive on the floor, but you can’t do it this time of the year,” Huggins said. “I didn’t do it because everyone says, ‘Well, they’re freshmen.’ Well, they’re freshmen that don’t win. That’s what they are.”
Following Saturday’s loss, Huggins said, among so many things:
“We can’t run a set because I have guys who have been here – and this is year two – and don’t know what they’re doing,” said Coach Bob Huggins, who recruited the players and vowed to fix it after the season. “It’s totally inexcusable. They don’t have any idea what they’re doing.
“I can’t call a set unless I have certain guys on floor who know what they’re doing. I can’t make substitutions, I can’t run a set because we’re going to have one guy standing somewhere he’s not supposed to stand and screw everything up. I can’t run a set after timeouts. It’s inexcusable, totally inexcusable.”
We were one Travis Ford dance to the broadcast table away from undeniable deja vu.
And yet here we are tonight, late in a season producing games desperate for a defining quality, with something almost as obtuse. There’s a little bit of meaning up for grabs.
If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’re tied with Baylor for sixth place in the Big 12 Conference standings. WVU, of course, was predicted to finish in sixth in the preseason coaches poll.
More importantly — and there’s dual significance here — is that a top-six finish keeps a team from playing on the first day of the Big 12 Tournament. The No. 6 seed would play a second-day game against the No. 3 seed.
That’s neat, right? Shortens the path to the Big 12 title! Three wins instead of four, which would be serendipity for a team that hasn’t won more than three in a row all season.
Then again, a top-six finish removes the likelihood of a first-day win against one of the bottom-four teams. And wins are paramount for the Mountaineers in order to get to NIT eligibility. The Mountaineers are, in practicality, better off going 1-1 with a win against, say, TCU and a loss to Kansas than they are going 0-1 with a loss against Oklahoma State. True, WVU has to go to the tournament above .500, but you get my point.
Now, is top-six realistic? Well, Baylor has lost three in a row after beating WVU and really, really needs this game if it is to entertain any chance of a NCAA bid. We live in a world where losing to WVU in the Coliseum is a “bad loss.”
The Bears then play host to Kansas State, play at Texas and play host to Kansas. That’s not simple. WVU follows with back-to-back road games (!) against Kansas and Oklahoma before closing out at home against Iowa State. Teams playing back-to-back road games in Big 12 play are 13-19.
Someone’s going to win this one first. Let’s see who …