Asti: West Virginia Would Only Have Itself to Blame for Missing NCAA Tournament
As the West Virginia men’s basketball team finishes out the season and fights to reach the NCAA Tournament, there’s something that needs said. No matter what excuse may exist about the strength of schedule or decisions made by the NCAA against the program, if the Mountaineers do not make the NCAA Tournament, this team has only itself to blame.
Erik Stevenson sparked a debate recently when he said WVU would be leading the ACC by five games if apart of this season’s edition of that conference. And while it is absolutely true that West Virginia would be in a better position, granted the five games part of his comment is likely a gross exaggeration, if it were playing in any other conference right now, most notably the ACC. WVU would probably have a few more wins and a few less losses at the minimum. A record slightly improved like that would almost ensure the Mountaineers would be off the bubble and make the tournament. Is that frustrating? Of course. But playing in the toughest conference in America is not an excuse when you have squandered opportunities all on your own.
Erik Stevenson Praises Big 12 Competitiveness, Says WVU Would Win ACC
The ACC, a conference that usually offers blue blood programs like Duke and North Carolina as legitimate national contenders but is widely considered as down and lacking ranked teams, would no doubt offer more winnable games overall, and that’s proven by the fact Pitt has played only seven games considered as “quad-1” games compared to 17 for West Virginia. But on the other hand, WVU has in now way displayed a consistent level of play that would guarantee they would win them all, or even as much as say Pitt has, and that’s said despite WVU beating Pitt by 25 earlier in the season. Talent wise, WVU SHOULD be in the spot Pitt is in if in the ACC, but who knows based on some efforts put forth this year.
If West Virginia suffers the fate of having their bubble burst and missing out on the NCAA Tournament all together, that is something this group of players should be embarrassed by and will forever have to deal with the fact they are to blame. Losses to Kansas and Baylor, and even earlier in the season to Purdue during non conference play, are understandable. Do fans want to win every game and want to beat the best? Obviously. But in the case of Kansas and Baylor, those are the last two national championship programs and they are expected to win every night, especially a perennial power like Kansas. However, the issue for WVU this year is they have lost too many games to teams they absolutely should have beat.
After starting off the season 10-2, with both losses as viewed as “good” ones because they came against a Purdue team that utilized its size to eventually earn a number one ranking in the country and on the road at Xavier a really tough to place to play, there was reason to believe this team was different than the one that just looked lost and had no chance at even being respectable last season. The 10 wins came with many blowouts too. But Huggins did mention that there were still too many mistakes and the double digits wins could’ve been by even more. Some argued that was just a coach being hard on his team and expecting a lot, but those mistakes then crept up at the worst possible time when the calendar turned to 2023.
The Mountaineers opened up Big 12 play with five-straight losses. Two of those were to the previously mentioned Kansas and Baylor, granted those games were in Morgantown, but the others were winnable matchup. Mental mistakes, in particular by fifth-year senior Stevenson, cost WVU a loss to Kansas State. Another loss during their 0-for-5 streak came against Oklahoma State, a team that has since put up a similar overall record to the Mountaineers. West Virginia also lost to an Oklahoma team they would later annihilate in their next matchup by one point. Win one of those other three January games and WVU gets in the madness of March.
Beyond just the first month of playing conference opponents, WVU has showed a propensity to get up for big games and then fall back for others. This team has impressed the computers and experts like Joe Lunardi because it has quality wins over TCU, Iowa State and Auburn, teams ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game. The problem is WVU followed up the Iowa State win with now three straight losses. Those wanting to use the schedule as the excuse will argue that WVU followed up the big wins with losses due to the fact they had to face top 10 ranked teams in the next game. And again, that is true and can make anyone frustrated when looking at a rival taking advantage of a weaker conference field, those losses are not the real issue. The loss to Texas Tech, though, is an issue. In fact, it could be labeled the worst loss of the season. Stevenson did put up 27 points, but admitted the team lacked energy. That’s unacceptable for a game of that magnitude.
When you are in a tough conference, one believed to be so far and away the best conference in the country, you must win as many games as possible. Makes sense, right? West Virginia just hasn’t won as many games as it possibly could have this season. After the second loss to Baylor, Lunardi and others made it very clear if WVU just simply takes care of business at home in their remaining games, they will crawl in. If they do that, everything else will be forgiven and the the losing streak to start conference play will only have hurt seeding. But they didn’t take care of business. Instead, the Mountaineers suffered a loss at the Coliseum to the last place team in the conference, the only Big 12 team most felt was not even on the bubble. Now with that bad loss on your resume, a win over Oklahoma State at home a couple days later may not even be enough to make up for it. That loss to Texas Tech is not one the committee is going to forget, and they shouldn’t.
WVU G Erik Stevenson Didn’t See Team Energy in Loss to Texas Tech
Maybe if WVU can claim another big win, that will serve as the necessary apology to the committee and still get Bob Huggins’ team in the field, although maybe not. That’s easier said than done though. Beating Kansas or Iowa State, despite beating the Cyclones once already, on the road won’t be easy. West Virginia won’t be favored in either game. The win in Lubbock earlier in the season stands as the lone road conference win for this group, and the only one factoring in last season too.
Stevenson came to WVU to play for a Basketball Hall of Fame coach and to be a leader of a program that has a pedigree of history behind it like West Virginia. If he’s truly the leader of this team, something that has been a point of debate all season due to his head coach awarding to him and then publicly proclaiming a leader needs crowned months later, he should be bringing up what needs brought up – this team has only itself to blame if it fails to reach its goals. And if this team ends up with the NIT as their only postseason, that should be viewed as a failure and below the expectations of the West Virginia basketball program.