MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s men’s basketball team is slated to face Kansas State on Saturday (4 p.m. on ESPN2), but exactly how many Mountaineers will be making the trip to Manhattan remains unclear.
“I don’t know,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins when asked if all his players were available for the game against the Wildcats. “Hopefully we’ll find out when the testing is over with (in the next day). That’s about all I can say.”
The Mountaineers had three games postponed – Jan. 12 at Baylor, Jan. 19 vs. TCU and Jan. 23 vs. Oklahoma State – while the program dealt with COVID-19 issues. An undisclosed number of WVU players either tested positive for the coronavirus or were contacted traced to those did, thus putting West Virginia below the Big 12 threshold needed to play a game, which is a minimum of six available scholarship players.
That meant that most of the Mountaineers couldn’t play or even practice since Jan. 11, as they had to remain in isolation.
“Not very many,” Huggins answered when asked how many of his players were able to continue working out the past 10 days. “If you have six, which was voted on by the coaches, you ought to try to play, so obviously we didn’t have six.
“For the guys that we had available, I think their conditioning will be fine, but I have no idea about the other guys,” noted Huggins, whose Mountaineers hold a 9-4 record and are ranked No. 14 in the latest A.P. poll. “In 43 years of being in this business, this is uncharted water. I don’t know what I can say and can’t say because of HIPAA. Sometimes we skirt the truth a little bit, but in this case, I just don’t know.”
It appears West Virginia, which is 2-3 in Big 12 action this season, is now at or above the threshold of six available players, and thus it will make the trip to K-State to take on the Wildcats (4-7/1-6) Saturday afternoon.
For WVU, the situation may not be ideal, but that comes with trying to play in the midst of a global pandemic.
“It is what it is; we have to someway fight our way through it,” stated Huggins. “Our guys have been so good. We hadn’t had any of this (in terms of COVID issues during the season). When everybody else was going through it, we weren’t. Now all of the sudden, it jumped up and bit us.”
Having had three games postponed, the Mountaineers are facing an upcoming stretch in the final six weeks of the regular season in which they are going to try to cram in a lot of games. They still have 14 unplayed games remaining (13 league contests and the Jan. 30 Big 12/SEC challenge against Florida) and 42 days in which to fit them in. Everyone in the Big 12 is facing similar predicaments, though none are identical. All Big 12 teams have had postponements of league games this season; some as many as four and others as few as one.
And the postponements aren’t likely to stop soon either, as the coronavirus is not going away, at least not for a while.
That leaves a lot of scrambling in the weeks ahead for those who are trying to reschedule Big 12 games.
“If everybody has to do the same thing, I’m all for it. All these (players) want to be pros, so they might as well get a dose of what being a pro is,” said Huggins of the prospect of playing three or more games a week.
“The problem is it’s not equal. When you sit down and look at your conference schedule, there are always some things you would like to change, but everybody goes through the same thing; everybody plays nine at home and nine on the road,” he continued. “I don’t know if that’s going to be the case now. There are people who are going to play more home games than away games. There are going to be people who haven’t played as many games as other people have played. And I haven’t heard of anyone playing three games in five days (as WVU is now slated to do from Feb. 15-20 with two games against Baylor and one at Texas).
“I can deal with whatever it is that is tangible, but the unknown is what scares me. That goes back to when I was a little kid, and I was scared of ghosts. You couldn’t hit them.”