MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There is no doubt that West Virginia has suffered through an agonizing winter of basketball.Heading into Wednesday night's game at Oklahoma (9 p.m., ESPN2) and Saturday afternoon's home finale against Iowa State (1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network), the Mountaineers are all but assured of their first losing season since John Beilein's first squad in 2002-03 finished 14-15.But Gonzaga's ascension to the No. 1 spot in the polls Monday also illustrates something else about this Mountaineer team: It played a brutal schedule.Including Gonzaga, West Virginia played four games against three teams that at some point this season were ranked No. 1 in the country.Gonzaga crushed the Mountaineers 84-50 in the season opener in Spokane, Wash.Michigan, which was No. 1 in the Associated Press poll on Jan. 28, beat WVU 81-66 in December in Brooklyn.And Kansas, which was No. 1 in the coaches poll the same week Michigan was atop the media poll, beat West Virginia twice this season, 61-56 in Morgantown and 91-65 on Saturday in Lawrence.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, however, isn't blaming the teams on his schedule for this year's woes. He did, however, say again on Monday that travel was an issue and that next year he will seek to rectify some of that."I think what we have to do is do a much better job of managing the travel part of it,'' Huggins said. "With the travel we do in the [Big 12] conference part of the schedule, you really don't need to make those cross-country trips in the non-conference.''
The two non-conference trips that stood out were the one to Gonzaga to open the season and then a game at Purdue in the middle of the conference slate. The Purdue trip was one of seven road games the Mountaineers had in a span of 11 games.That doesn't mean Huggins will back off of scheduling good teams, however. It's just where the games are played will be looked at.Next season, in many ways, takes care of itself. There are return games with Gonzaga and Purdue, but both are at home. There's a visit to Virginia Tech, but that's certainly not a long trip. In fact, it might be the Mountaineers' shortest non-tournament trip except for the annual game with Marshall in Charleston.There is a long trip scheduled, but it's during the school's Thanksgiving break in Cancun, Mexico. That includes two games in Morgantown and then two more in Mexico at the Cancun Challenge. Huggins said Monday that the other teams in WVU's bracket of the tournament are Wisconsin, Old Dominion and Saint Louis."In terms of are we backing off the schedule, we've got Gonzaga here next year, we've got Purdue here next year and we're scheduled to play Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech, as well as having Duquesne here and playing either Wisconsin, Old Dominion or Saint Louis in the Cancun tournament," Huggins said. "So we're not backing off, but I think we have to do a better job of managing the travel thing. None of us had any idea. I mean, let's be honest. We had no idea what it was going to be like. I think from that standpoint we've got to do a better job."Next year's schedule, then, would include nine Big 12 road games, plus the two in Cancun, one at Virginia Tech and perhaps two in Charleston - Marshall and one other. Assuming a 31-game schedule, that means WVU could play as many as 17 or 18 games at the Coliseum, up from just 14 this season, when the Mountaineers played one of the lightest home schedules of any BCS-level Division I team.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.