When West Virginia University basketball joined the Big 12 in 2012, the Mountaineers assumed one the most travel-heavy conference schedules of any team in the country.
It’s a fact that WVU coach Bob Huggins brings up often, and one he does not feel a lot of people understand everything his team goes through. For West Virginia, every road Big 12 game means taking an hours-long flight, leaving early in the morning and returning late at night. The Mountaineers go through multiple days of being away from their own beds and away from Morgantown. These issues have manifested over the years, leaving otherwise great WVU teams with sub-par records on the road in conference.
Across nine seasons playing in the Big 12, West Virginia has finished with a winning record in road Big 12 games just twice, 6-3 in 2015-16 and 5-4 in 2016-17. The team bottomed out in 2018-19, going 0-9 against Big 12 opponents one the road.
This season, however, No. 10 WVU (15-6, 8-4 Big 12) has a chance to have its best-ever Big 12 season away from the Coliseum. After dropping their first two Big 12 roads games this season, the Mountaineers have bounced back to win five consecutive conference road games, now sitting with a 5-2 record on the road. That includes a pair of unlikely 19-point comebacks at Oklahoma State and Texas.
“I think it’s maturity,” Huggins said Monday. “We’ve got some guys that have been through it before. Those guys know what we have to do on the road with preparation. You’re more apt to have comebacks from home teams on the road than you are visa-versa because they’re so comfortable.”
Junior forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. was one of three current players who were on that 2018-19 team that was dreadful on the road. He said the memory of that season is motivating him this year.
“For me personally, I like to think of it as revenge for my first two years here,” Matthews said. “My first year I think every team took it to us and we couldn’t really do anything about it. Every team tried to beat us by 30, 40 so for me this year is a big year for us. Winning on the road is just one of the things we happen to be doing really well.”
Finding ways to win on the road has almost been necessary for the Mountaineers to keep up in the Big 12 this season. Winning home games is important given how tough the Big 12 is and WVU has dropped home games against Texas, Florida and Oklahoma this season.
“For us to do what we want to do in the Big 12 we’re going to have to win homes game but we’ve given up home games that we should’ve won,” Matthews said. “Winning on the road is one of the hardest things to do just because usually you’re playing against the fans and it’s unfamiliar territory.”
The Mountaineers are currently in the middle of a three-game Texas road trip. After defeating the Longhorns in Austin on Saturday, WVU will play TCU in Fort Worth on Tuesday and travel to Waco to play Baylor on Thursday.
Tuesday and Thursday will be WVU’s final two conference road games of the season. Winning one would tie the Mountaineers’ record for road Big 12 wins in a single season, winning both would break it.