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Bock: What’s Next for West Virginia Basketball?

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Photo: Julia Mellett / WVSN

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As I sit inside the WVU Coliseum with the clock striking midnight, the ominous cloud of doubt is starting to set in for the WVU basketball program. A lot of questions are needed to be answered and they need to be answered soon.

Everything seemed fine when the team started 13-2, but after four-straight losses, there’s talks of this team potentially not even making the NCAA Tournament. A 72-62 loss to a limping Oklahoma team at home was the nail in the coffin for some of the fanbase and maybe even for head coach Bob Huggins.

For some reason, as I listened to Huggins speak to the media after the game, it seemed like the end of this experiment with this team. Huggins was very apologetic to the fanbase for the lack of offense and for the team’s struggles in general.

“I know how important Mountaineer basketball is to the people in the state of West Virginia,” Huggins said. “So, I understand. I understand. I understand how important it is. I understand how much [the fans] plan their schedules around it. I apologize to them.”

The longtime college basketball coach even brought up cutting players if it meant that he could make this team better.

“I promise I will do everything in my power to fix this,” Huggins said. “Even if that means people no longer being with us.”

This week, Huggins has brought up players still having attitude problems. Luckily, for Huggins, he has been in this situation before at Cincinnati and at West Virginia, and he’s teams have always been fine after cutting guys loose.

So, what’s next for the program, short term and long term?

Short Term

I don’t know how much hope anybody, including the team, has left. Every game it’s the same story. Fall behind in the first half, rely on Taz Sherman for offense, generate some energy in the second half and then go from there. Why can’t this team ever generate any energy in the first half?

I think for West Virginia’s sake, it’s best that they just try to survive and take the schedule with one game at a time. Huggins made a point on Wednesday night that they need to work on offense. The team has been able to improve their defense, free-throw shooting and rebounding as the season has progressed. Now, it’s time to work on finishing the easy baskets and for guys to be able to create their own shot. Huggins was watching film of the 2010 Final Four team, trying to figure out how those guys created space and got good shots off. Wellington Smith and Da’Sean Butler specifically were the guys that Huggins mentioned could get some free room to work with.

It still seems like 18 or 19 wins can confidently get you into the NCAA Tournament field, as there’s no such thing as a “bad” loss in the Big 12. WVU just needs at least five more wins the rest of the way to have a shot at making the big dance.

One game at a time. Just survive.

Long Term

I hate to say it, but this is one of the new concepts in college basketball that Huggins is behind on and hasn’t really taken too much advantage of it so far.

The transfer portal.

Huggins himself admitted on Tuesday that he wishes his staff took a different approach about it last offseason.

“Honestly, we probably didn’t do a good job in the portal,” Huggins said.

This is not necessarily a knock on Malik Curry, Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap, but a knock on their eligibility. But this was their first rodeo with the transfer portal, so let’s give them a break.

I think moving forward, and the staff has realized this, they need to attack the transfer portal this offseason and get players that can come in and give immediate impact, as well as stay for a few seasons. You look around the country, a lot of these transfers that the Power-5’s got, are guys that can stay for multiple years. It’s way early to talk about departures but WVU will lose Curry, Carrigan, Paulicap, Sherman and Gabe Osabuohien. The Mountaineers could also lose Sean McNeil and Keddy Johnson if they decide to not use their free COVID year. The staff only has three incoming players so far, they’ll need to look at young players in the transfer portal that will be at West Virginia for multiple seasons.

It feels like the end of an era for Huggins. No, not talking about his coaching career or his ability to keep a team competitive. I’m talking about the end of an era for his old school thinking of college basketball. It seems like as of late, Huggins has realized that he needs to take advantage of the new world of college athletics.

As West Virginia looks ahead to their schedule, it’s brutal. Something needs to change and it needs to change quickly. But, for the future, there’s hope if Huggins and his staff can adapt to the new way of college basketball.

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Ethan Bock is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at WVU. He currently is an intern with the Final Fourcast podcast. Ethan has covered WVU football and men’s basketball for the last year. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio.

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