Exactly one year ago to the date, West Virginia held a 8-4 record with losses to Buffalo, Western Kentucky, Florida and Rhode Island. While the early season losses were painful for Mountaineers, some of those eight wins were just as hard to watch. Close wins over Saint Joseph’s, Jacksonville State and Lehigh spelled a long season ahead for Bob Huggins’ squad.
“I’m going to fix it,” Huggins echoed seemingly after every frustrating loss one season ago. Twelve games into the 2019-20 season, I think it’s safe to say “he’s fixed it”.
I will be the first to admit, I was not sold on this year’s squad until Sunday’s 67-59 victory over 2nd ranked Ohio State. The fact that they were able to overcome foul trouble, a scoreless afternoon from Oscar Tshiebwe, and being out-rebounded is impressive. Mountaineer forward Gabe Osabuohien said it best in postgame, “we’re not even halfway to our full potential,” and he’s 100% right. Culver and Tshiebwe are still learning to play together, McNeil and Sherman are still looking for consistency and foul shooting has been anemic to say the least. There’s still a ton of room to improve and to be able to knock off one of the best teams in the country despite the growing pains, says a lot.
Last year’s team had some misfits that held the team back from reaching its full potential and Huggins replaced those guys with players who have a better work ethic and attitude. One thing that Huggins has repeatedly said from the first day of practice is that this group of guys love playing with one another. Team chemistry is something that needs to also be built off the court and it appears the team did a great job of that this offseason. The guys in the locker room have a different mentality than they did a year ago and it shows.
With a lot of new faces and returning pieces from a 15-21 team, I expected the turnaround to take a little longer. With close wins over Akron, Northern Colorado, Northern Iowa and Rhode Island, it was a little concerning. Sunday’s game vs Ohio State was the measuring stick for the early portion of the season and they passed big test number one.
Another big challenge looms this Saturday as Kansas awaits the Mountaineers in Lawrence - a place where West Virginia has yet to win a game.
This squad has already caught the nation’s attention and is just a few points away from being 12-0. There’s still a lot of season to be played, but at this point, West Virginia is surging back to relevance at rapid pace.