The 2019-2020 West Virginia University men’s basketball team was one of hardest teams to figure out that I have ever covered on any level.
Last week, college basketball — along with most other collegiate and professional sports in this country — were wiped out due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday morning, WVU practiced at Kansas City’s Sprint Center — site of the Big 12 tournament — ahead of a quarterfinal clash with league rival Oklahoma. A little more than 24 hours later, in one of the strangest press conferences I have ever been present for on one of the saddest days in the history of college sports, and both the Big 12 men’s and women’s tournaments were called off. A few hours later the NCAA tournament was wiped out. Not postponed. Canceled.
It was no doubt a weird season for West Virginia, but nobody would have predicted (certainly not prior to a few weeks ago when the top soccer league in Italy started cancelling events) the abrupt ending the Mountaineers and so many other teams around the country were faced with Thursday afternoon.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. The Mountaineers were young and arrived on the national stage ahead of schedule after a win in Cleveland against No. 2 Ohio State in late December.
But when January started the Mountaineers had to dive into Big 12 play.
A league-opening loss at Kansas was not unexpected, and the win at Oklahoma State the following was somewhat surprising considering how bad West Virginia had been away from home in recent years.
If you’re a Mountaineer fan or a loyal reader you know what came next. West Virginia hit some bumps in the road the rest of the month but was mostly OK before falling off a cliff in February to tumble out of the national polls and spotlight. It was so bad for the Mountaineers many, including Bob Huggins, wondered how these were the same players who had been on the floor in prior months for WVU.
WVU closed its regular season with a rare road win at Iowa State and an unforgettable upset against No. 4 Baylor in Morgantown to build some momentum going into the postseason, but as we now know it was a postseason that never happened. In what was a head-scratching season for West Virginia basketball, there appeared to a glimmer of hope that these young Mountaineers would be able to right the wrongs of February and make some noise in March. Throughout the season we all struggled to know which WVU team would show up from game to game, so in a way the sudden end to this college basketball season was almost fitting for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia could have played lights out at the Big 12 tournament and made a run in the NCAA tournament — which WVU was an absolute lock to appear in no matter what happened last week in the Sprint Center after missing out last season. Or perhaps the Mountaineers would have lost to Oklahoma for a third time this season when they were scheduled to meet at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City before flaming out in the NCAA tournament. At times it appeared this team represented one of Huggins’ best coaching jobs since arriving back in Morgantown, and other times — especially late in the regular season — it looked like his worst.
With momentum on their side, the Mountaineers sure did seem poised to win some games in March and lighten the black mark that appeared on Huggins’ resume after a pitiful February showing, but now we’ll never know.