WVU News, Notes & Rumors – 4/9
The Mountaineer basketball men’s team wrapped up its season ranked No. 13 in last week’s USA Today Coaches’ Polls. It’s the fourth straight year Bob Huggins’ program has finished the year ranked in the top 25 in that poll.
West Virginia was also ranked No. 15 in the country in the final A.P. poll, which actually came out prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament. Because the A.P. writers’ poll, which began in 1948, predates the coaches’ version, the A.P. poll is usually used for historical reference.
This is the fourth straight year WVU has finished in the top 25 in the A.P. poll. That is the second best run in school history, following only seven straight years in the top 25 from 1955-61. Below is a list of all of WVU’s top 25 finishes to the season.
WVU’s Final AP Rankings
2018 (26-11) – 15
2017 (28-9) – 13
2016 (26-9) – 8
2015 (25-10) – 20
2011 (21-12) – 22
2010 (31-7) – 6
2006 (22-11) – 22
1989 (26-5) – 17
1982 (27-4) – 14
1961 (23-4) – 9
1960 (26-5) – 5
1959 (29-5) – 10
1958 (26-2) – 1
1957 (25-5) – 7
1956 (21-9) – 20
1955 (19-11) – 19
1952 (23-4) – 9
WVU has spent the past 54 weeks ranked in the A.P. poll, dating back to 2015, and 74 straight weeks ranked in the coaches’ poll. That’s the second longest streak of ranked weeks in the A.P. poll in school history, trailing on the 56-week stretch from 1956-60.
And many expect the Mountaineers’ rankings run, which is currently the fourth longest active streak in the country, to continue next season. WVU is 13th in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early top 25 or 2018-19.
* * * * * *
West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins revealed last week that forward Lamont West had played the latter part of his sophomore season with a torn ligament in his wrist. It was an injury West didn’t report to the coaches or trainers, as he wanted to remain in the lineup.
That explains the falloff in West’s shooting in the later potion of the season. He made 47-of-123 (38.2 percent) of his three-point attempts in his first 36 games, but just 8-of-40 (20 percent) in his final 10 games.
West will have surgery to repair the ligament tear in the near future, and Huggins expects him to be 100 percent by the start of his junior season.
* * * * * *
We reported a month or so ago that former WVU assistant football coach Butch Jones, who had spent the past five seasons as the head coach at Tennessee, was moving over to become a member of the staff at SEC rival Alabama after being fired by the Vols late in the 2017 campaign.
At first glance, you may think Butch, his wife and their three sons will have to live a spartan life in Tuscaloosa, as his annual salary as an analyst with the Crimson Tide is listed as $35,000.
But the Jones family will probably be able to afford more than just ramen noodles and bologna, as Butch is still owed $8.26 million by Tennessee, in accordance with the buyout of his contract. Jones will receive a check from UT for approximately $230,000 each month through February of 2021.
So don’t worry. I think the Jones family will be just fine financially.
* * * * * *
West Virginia University hasn’t been involved in a conference realignment story in more than a half dozen years, but there is some potential league movement involving Mountain State schools that may pique your interest if you’ve missed those conversations. It just doesn’t involve WVU.
The Mountain East Conference may soon be undergoing some membership changes.
The MEC, which formed in 2013 when the WVIAC broke up, currently has 12 members competing at the Division II level – nine in West Virginia plus two in Ohio (Notre Dame College and Urbana) and one in Virginia (UVA-Wise).
While the MEC has had a lot of success since it began competition five years ago, two of its members are reportedly looking to move to different conferences.
Shepherd has dominated the football side of the MEC since its inception, winning four of the five league championships and making a run to the D-II championship game in 2015. But the Rams are supposedly listening to a courtship call by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. The PSAC, which is an 18-school league based in Pennsylvania and split into two nine-team east and west divisions, needs to fill a spot being vacated by Cheyney University, which is dropping down from the D-II athletic level and giving up football completely.
In addition, UVA-Wise is reportedly in discussions about moving to the South Atlantic Conference. A 12-team league, eight of whom play football, the SAC’s current footprint includes North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Unlike Division I conference changes, moves at the D-II level don’t revolve around the chase for more TV money, because there simply is very little in that division. Instead, the potential moves of Shepherd and UVA-Wise are based primarily on geography and decreasing travel expenses. Both SU and UVA-W are outliers in the MEC, with the Eastern Panhandle Rams being a two-and-a-half hour drive from their nearest Mountain East rival, Fairmont State. And located in southwestern Virginia, the Cavaliers are also about two-and-half hours from their closest MEC foe, Concord. If they moved to their new proposed leagues, each would have multiple conference opponents closer in proximity.
If Shepherd and UVA-Wise do depart, there is one MEC replacement candidate who has already been rumored. Frostburg State College, which is currently a Division III school in Western Maryland just a few miles outside of Cumberland, could quickly fill one of the MEC openings. The Bobcats, who have an enrollment of 4,700 undergrads, would have to move up from D-III to D-II, but the school has apparently been discussing that switch for a while now. Currently a member of the Capital Athletic Conference, which includes 12 members in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, FSC is also looking at geography as it contemplates the move to the MEC. After all, five of the Mountain East members would be within two-and-half hours of Frostburg.
* * * * * *
When WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons decided not to renew the contract of wrestling coach Sammie Henson, my thought for his replacement immediately went to Greg Jones.
One of the most decorated Mountaineer athletes of all times, Jones won three NCAA national titles (2002, 2004 and 2005). Only two other WVU wrestlers (Scott Collins in 1991 and Dean Morrison in 1994) have even won a single NCAA championship.
A native of Greensburg, Pa., Jones served as an assistant at West Virginia for nine seasons under former head coach Craig Turnbull. When then WVU director of athletics Oliver Luck decided not to retain Turnbull following the 2014 season, he ultimately bypassed the in-house candidate in Jones and instead hired Henson, who was a successful wrestler in his own right (two NCAA titles and a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics) and at the time was an assistant coach at Missouri.
Since he left WVU, Jones has been coaching wrestling skills to MMA fighters at Blackzilians, which is a training center in Boca Raton, Fla., for some of that sport’s top competitors.
The greatest wrestler in West Virginia history, Jones certainly should be on the short list to become the head coach at his alma mater this time around.
* * * * * *
The cancellation of this past Saturday’s Gold-Blue Spring Game because of a forecast winter weather storm took my mind back to the only other similar incident that I could remember.
It did not feature the same circumstances, as weather wasn’t involved the other time, but there was a memorable and contentious cancellation in the spring of 1997.
Don Nehlen had scheduled for one of his team’s spring practices to be open to the public and held at Laidley Field in Charleston that year. A large crowd was already on hand at the Capital City facility won that Saturday morning. But WVU coaches and officials, who had arrived a short while earlier, decided the aging artificial turf at Laidley was a hazard. The busses were quickly turned around and sent back to Morgantown. The players weren’t even allowed to stop by to sign autograph or greet those fans in attendance, because it was determined that by doing so, the day would count as one of the Mountaineers’ allotted practice sessions, even if they actually never practiced.
The throng of fans waiting in the parking lot at Laidley Field was not at all pleased with the decision to not at least have the players sign autographs. It may not have risen to the level of the discord that seems to regularly take place a couple blocks away at the State Capitol, but still many were very upset with the cancellation.
In comparison, I’ve heard very few complaints about missing out on an opportunity to sit through this year’s potential Spring Game snowfest.