Through most of the college basketball season, the WVU men’s basketball team has been extended a healthy dose of respect in the polls.
Heading into Wednesday’s game at Big 12 bottom feeder Iowa State, the Mountaineers were No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 11 in the USA Today coaches’ poll despite falling in four of the previous five contests.
Yet that respect might be hard to come by now, after West Virginia’s 93-77 loss to ISU at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
The Mountaineers were outhustled. They were dominated inside. They were dominated outside. And at game’s end, Cyclone fans were singing and chanting that WVU is “overrated.”
It seems the intimidation that was “Press Virginia” has disappeared. Coach Bob Huggins even questioned the team’s pride in that regard late Wednesday. And those following the team now have to wonder if a WVU group once ranked No. 2 will even make the NCAA tournament.
Now 16-6, West Virginia hosts 16-6 Kansas State on Saturday. It then visits No. 12 Oklahoma, hosts Oklahoma State and TCU, visits No. 7 Kansas and Baylor, hosts the same Iowa State team and No. 10 Texas Tech and then visits Texas to close the regular season.
What was once a hot ticket has become a hot mess.
“Everybody’s got answers but me,” Huggins said. “I’m not going to lie about it. I’ve done this for 40 years. I don’t have any answers. I could sit here and lie and make some [crap] up, but I’m not going to do that.”
The Mountaineers dropped into a tie for fourth place within the Big 12 with Wednesday’s loss. They are now just plus-6.8 in turnover margin.
“We just aren’t playing aggressive like we used to,” said Mountaineer guard Jevon Carter. “We have to play harder. It starts on the defensive end. That leads to some easy buckets on offense.”
“We’re just trying to find our rhythm right now,” said Esa Ahmad, who made his first start of the season and had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting. “We haven’t been on a losing streak like this, but every team goes through adversity. It’s about how we fight back. We have to correct things in practice. We have to listen to Coach and execute everything. It starts in practice and translates to the floor.”
“In fairness to our guys, the schedule has been tough,” Huggins said. “We’ve played really good people and we have the most one-day turnarounds of anybody in the league. You combine that with our travel schedule and that’s rough.
“We have five [one-day turnarounds] and Kansas has four. Everybody else has maybe two. And nobody flies as far and as long as we do. If you’d get back at 5 in the morning, you’d get pretty tired too. That’s part of it. It’s not all of it. I think Iowa State played terrific. They had a great game plan. They played terrific and we didn’t make any shots. We looked tired.
“Now, it’s not because of practice because we haven’t really practiced,” he said. “And honestly, I’d have to have a chair and a whip to get them to practice hard because they stopped practicing hard a while ago.”
“We just have to play harder,” Carter said. “Once we start playing harder, things will start changing.”
Saturday’s game against K-State will start at 4 p.m. and be televised on ESPN2.