The Mountaineer men’s basketball team is facing of a brutal closing stretch to its regular season.
WVU is currently in the midst of a three-game road swing through Texas over a six-day stretch.
West Virginia started its adventure on a good note in Austin on Saturday, where it knocked off the 12th-ranked Longhorns, 84-82.
From there the Mountaineers heads up I-35 to Ft. Worth to meet TCU on Tuesday and then reverses the I-35 journey, this time to Waco where it is set to face No. 2 Baylor on Thursday.
“We’ve tried to back off on practice time and the intensity in practice so we can get ready to go through what no one else in America is going to do,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins, whose club is ranked No. 13 in the latest A.P. poll and holds a 15-6 overall record. “No one else is going to play three games in six days and bus in between. That may happen to smaller schools, but that doesn’t happen when you’re playing this caliber of people night in and night out.
“I can’t remember the last time we played three games in six days where it wasn’t a pre-conference situation like we did in South Dakota this year,” continued West Virginia’s veteran coach. “The difference then is the other teams were doing the same thing. Now we’re being asked to play three in six days, and it’s tough.”
As if the travel itself isn’t tough enough, the Mountaineers are also traversing an area that is still recovering from a horrendous winter storm that left millions of Texans without electricity or water last week.
“There are a lot of issues,” said Huggins at the outset of West Virginia’s trip, which included a flight to Austin and then bussing to the other venues before flying home after Thursday’s game. “There is situation with the plane. There is the situation with the hotels. In some cases, you have situations with the arena. They’ve got pretty much statewide issues with power and water.
“Certainly the weather is a concern, travel is a concern. There are a lot of concerns,” he added. “Frankly, playing three games in six days, riding three-and-a-half hours on a bus between games is a concern. There are a lot of concerns.”
The weather situation in the state, and its after effects, appear to be improving, though.
The Big 12 was forced to postpone several games last week because of the severe weather in Texas and Oklahoma. That comes on top of previous postponements because of COVID-19 issues within various programs.
Every league team other than Kansas is faced with making up postponed games in the final two weeks of the regular season. WVU’s contest at Baylor on Thursday actually is a makeup for a meeting that was originally scheduled earlier in the year.
Besides their two remaining games this week in the Lone Star State, the Mountaineers are also slated to meet Kansas State in Morgantown on Saturday, Feb. 27. West Virginia also has three other postponed games that currently haven’t been slotted on to the calendar (TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor, all in Morgantown). WVU doesn’t have anything on its schedule between Feb. 27 and the start of the Big 12 Tournament on March 10, so the expectation is the conference will try to squeeze as many games as possible into that small window.
Thus WVU could play as many as seven games over a 15-day span.
Other Big 12 teams face an even more daunting task, as Baylor still has six postponed games whose makeup days have not yet been announced. TCU has four such TBA contests, while Iowa State, Texas and Texas Tech each have three, like WVU. Oklahoma State has two games that need to be made up, while K-State and Oklahoma have one each.
“I think the wish and expectation of the league is to play as many games as you can possibly play,” stated Huggins, leaving unsaid the realization that every postponed Big 12 game probably can’t be made up. “I know you guys are smart enough to know that television is a part of this. It’s going to be largely, or at least partly, dictated by television.
“It comes down to how do you get the games in? Who would have ever though that the weather in Texas would be so bad? It complicates a lot of things.”
The first leg of the Mountaineer three-game swing through the Lone Star State got off to a very good start with a win over the No. 12 Longhorns Saturday afternoon in Austin.
And for the most part the travel hasn’t been a big problem to this point.
“We had been told that the water pipes had burst in the arena, but it was fine,” said Huggins of the conditions in UT’s Erwin Center. “We came in and got some shots up (Friday), and the people here were terrific and very accommodating.
“We heard about a lot of the problems,” continued WVU’s veteran coach. “Before we left (Morgantown), we were told the hotel that we stay in, and the one we stay in virtually every time we come here, that the pipes had burst there. So, we were going to go to one about 45 minutes away. But then we got another call saying they had fixed the pipes, so we were able to stay where we normally stay.
“They did a great job of taking care of us,” said Huggins of the Austin hotel’s staff. “They couldn’t get any food trucks in because of the damage to the road, so they went out and got us food and cooked it for us, which was terrific on their part.
“It’s been about as normal as it can be considering the circumstances.”
So the first leg of West Virginia’s Texas three-step has gone about as well as it could, both on the court and off.
One down, two to go.