The last time I sat down to write about West Virginia men’s basketball, the theme was potential. The Mountaineers have the pieces in place to potentially be very good this season. Potential is just that, however, which is why seeing WVU check in at No. 23 on Andy Katz’s preseason Power 36 felt about right.
This group of Mountaineers could be very good this season, but what has this group done to merit a ranking much higher than No. 23? Let’s not mince words, West Virginia basketball has been a disappointment the last two seasons. In 2018, when most of the current roster was in their first season in the program or still in high school, the Mountaineers were a dumpster fire.
Bob Huggins lost control of that team — players were dismissed for disciplinary reasons, others left on their own before the end of the season and Coastal Carolina scored more points than any opponent in the history of the WVU Coliseum as the Chanticleers sent WVU crashing out of the CBI. Yuck.
Huggins vowed to get it turned around, and progress was made in 2019 but signs were there that this group was not quite ready for prime time. The Mountaineers shot up the rankings after a hot start to the season that included a win in Cleveland against then-No. 2 Ohio State.
At that point, WVU was praised by many as the best defensive team in the country. One problem — the Mountaineers stunk on offense. When the defense was even slightly off, it meant WVU was in for a fight. West Virginia was also (again) very bad in road games, especially in the Big 12. There is a sense of the unknown with the 2019 WVU team because of how the season ended without knowing how West Virginia would have done in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, but after the way the season started it was hard to not feel like the Mountaineers did not live up to expectations.
So No. 23 is about where the Mountaineers should find themselves this preseason. If you have them much higher than that, you’re buying into the hype for a team that has a recent history of failing to meet expectations and can’t do anything to prove they are different from the team that won exactly one Big 12 road game last season. No. 23 isn’t a slight. In fact, it might be somewhat on the kind side for WVU. If this group plays up to its potential, the wins will pile up and the Mountaineers will climb in the rankings.
It’s cliché, but it’s also true — it doesn’t matter where you start the season, it’s where you finish the season that people will remember.