MORGANTOWN (WV News) — West Virginia’s No. 13/15 ranked men’s team embarked Friday on the road trip from Hell in search of finding basketball Heaven, traveling to snow-and-ice-covered Texas to play a grueling three games in six days.
The trip opens at 3 p.m. today in Austin, Texas, as WVU looks for revenge against the No. 12/13 Texas Longhorns, who defeated them at the Coliseum, 72-70, on January 9. Guard Andrew Jones threw down a rushed 3-point shot from the corner with 1.8 seconds left to snatch away what seemed to be a sure Mountaineer victory when they blew a five-point lead with 1:24 left by missing key free throws.
They follow this on Tuesday with a 7 p.m. game with TCU in Fort Worth, then make up one of two postponed games against No. 2 Baylor in Waco, on Thursday. No time or network has been assigned to this game that could help decide WVU’s fate in the regular season and seed in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
The games are tough enough, facing two Top 15 teams and a TCU team coached by Jamie Dixon, the former Pitt coach who has had good success against Bob Huggins, all three of them on the opponents’ home court.
“We play a good Texas team, then a team Jamie has done a terrific job with,” Huggins said. “That will be a tough game and take a lot out of us. Then we get on a bus and go to Waco and play the No,. 2 team in the country.”
But playing strong teams in a compressed period on the road is only a part of what is one of the biggest regular-season challenges WVU has faced in the regular season.
In fact, there is no certainty even now that these games will be played between the COVID-19 pandemic that has recked havoc upon college basketball and the killer snow and ice storm that was so bad that even Sen. Ted Cruz felt it best he abandon the state, taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, drawing much criticism for leaving under circumstances.
The obstacles have been staggering.
“There’s a lot of issues,” Huggins pointed out. “You got situations with the plane, with the hotels, some places you have situations with the arenas. They have pretty much statewide issues with power and water. It’s a wait and see situation.”
Frigid, below freezing temperatures mixed with the power being out for almost half the population of the state at one point has had residents burning furniture to keep warm while frozen pipes have cut back on the water supply, forcing residents to have to boil water to make it suitable for drinking.
Huggins admits he’s concerned about the entire situation.
“There’s a lot of concerns about a lot of things,” he said. “We’re taking guys out of class ... and then we have the conference tournament coming up when they will be out of class, and then the NCAA Tournament when they will be out of class.
“Certainly, weather is a concern. Travel is a concern. Three games in six days,” Huggins continued. “I can’t remember the last time we played three games in six days when it wasn’t a pre-conference situation. We did it in South Dakota this year, but the difference is the other teams were doing the same thing.”
Huggins says you approach such a challenge one game at a time.
“Baylor seems a long way off,” he said. “Playing in South Dakota will help us.”
They played three games in four days there.
“What you do is play, go to the hotel, watch film, break things down, try to figure out what you can do to be successful and keep them from being successful, then play the next game,” Huggins said.
Obviously, it isn’t ideal.
“It’s not in anyone’s best interests to play three games in six days,” he went on. “You are playing different styles of teams and we are the only ones doing it.
“But it’s not ideal getting back at 5 in the morning from Lubbock, either. We have a lot of things other people don’t have to endure.”
And WVU still doesn’t know about two other make up games, one with Oklahoma State and a second meeting with Baylor. Huggins is sure every measure will be taken to get all games made up.
“I think the wish and expectation of the league is to play as many games as you can possibly play,” Huggins said. “Of course, television plays a big part of this. It’s going to be a good bit dictated by television.”
Oddly, the coaches play little to no role in fixing the schedule.
“You’d think they would get our opinion but they don’t,” Huggins said “It comes down to how do you get the games in. Who would ever have thought the weather in Texas would be like this. It complicates a lot of things. It complicates travel. We’ve tried to back off on practice time and the intensity of practice. No one else is going through this.”
Huggins expects to have Taz Sherman back at full speed for the Texas game after two games of being injured and they have to not only shake off the effect of the uncertainties and the travel, but of a 91-90 double overtime loss to Oklahoma at home in their last game.