WVU’s Basketball Season Was Good But Not Quite Great

West Virginia forward Gabe Osabuohien (3) reacts after receiving a technical foul

There are 350 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams, and 99.71428% of them concluded their season with some degree of disappointment.

Usually that ending angst increases the better a team is. Despite an incredible career as a Hall of Fame player, coach and executive, Mountaineer great Jerry West has long maintained that his biggest disappointment was in falling by a single point to California, 71-70, in the 1959 NCAA championship game. He also led WVU into the NCAA tournament in 1958 and 1960, absorbing an early round upset in each, but the one that hurt him the most was the one where he went the furthest.

After an 18-8 regular season, the 2020-21 Mountaineer reached the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in the 14-year tenure of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. No coach has taken WVU to as many NCAA tourneys.

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March Madness for this year’s West Virginia squad came to a close in the second round of the NCAAs, as an 84-67 win over Morehead State was followed by a season-ending 75-72 loss at the hands of Syracuse.

It was the 68th time in the past 80 years that WVU’s men’s basketball season has come to end with a loss. Those finale victories during that eight-decade span, came when West Virginia wrapped up its campaign twice with NIT titles (1942 and 2008), five times it concluded with postseason consolation wins (ECAC in 1976, NCAA in 1960 and ’63, Southern Conference in 1951 and NIT in 1946), and five times it finished with a regular-season victory (2020 because COVID cancelled the postseason, and while playing as an independent in 1972, ’71, ’48 and ’43).

So, ending with a loss this season is the norm, but still that didn’t mean there wasn’t disappointing from players and fans alike. Some of those outside the program took their ire way, way too far with horrible social media posts directed at the Mountaineers, but I’ll save my disgust with those keyboard bullies for another editorial.

For now, I’ll concentrate on those who left their blood, sweat and tears on the court.

At the end of its run, WVU was 19-10. Each of its losses was to a team that made the NCAA tournament field, as were nine of its wins. It was also 5-7 against teams rated in the Associated Press’s top 25 at the time of the meeting.

All those were good, solid numbers, but the thing that kept them from being truly great were West Virginia’s struggles in close games.

The Mountaineers were just 5-9 in contests decided by five points or fewer this season, while going 14-1 when the margin was greater than five points. Their only loss in that category was a 79-65 defeat at Kansas in December.

West Virginia guard Deuce McBride eyes the rim for a dunk (Dale Sparks photo)

Through much of the season, West Virginia was doing what you’d expect in very close games – splitting them. Deuce McBride’s last second drive to defeat Texas Tech, 88-87, was countered by Andrew Jones’ 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Texas an 84-82 victory in the WVU Coliseum. That’s the way it went; one heartbreaking loss, like to Gonzaga (87-82), was followed by a nailbiting win, as against Iowa State (70-65).

In the final five weeks of the season, though, West Virginia had trouble prying a victory from a tight contest. Other than an 84-82 win at Texas on Feb. 20, the Mountaineers dropped five of their last six games decided by five points or fewer. Two of those were overtime affairs, falling in double OT to No. 2 Oklahoma (91-90) and in one overtime to No. 3 Baylor (94-89). And both their postseason losses were by just three points – 72-79 to No. 12 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament and 75-72 to Syracuse in the NCAA’s second round.

Imagine what the 2020-21 season could have been if WVU had turned around that 5-9 record in close games to 9-5? West Virginia already had spent the entire 2020-21 season in the top 20, with six of those weeks in the top 10 and a high of No. 6. A few more wins would have allowed for even brighter lights and potentially an even deeper NCAA run.

But the difference between a good team and a great one is usually how it fares when the competition gets tight. The Mountaineers were no doubt a good team this past season, but their inability to perform better in close games kept them from being a great one.

 

Home Page forums WVU’s Basketball Season Was Good But Not Quite Great

  • This topic has 12 replies, 7 voices, and was last updated by Kevin Kinder.
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  • #145002

    There are 350 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams, and 99.71428% of them concluded their season with some degree of disappointment. Usually that en
    [See the full post at: WVU’s Basketball Season Was Good But Not Quite Great]

    #145003

    Greg, usually your stories are right on.  I recall speaking with you at many Blue-Gold games, and when you visited the Fort Ashby Fire Department many moons ago.  I was happy when the Blue Gold news papers were started.  I was on this Site from almost the beginning, know then as Dishman, Dishman 1,2,3,4,5, and 6.  The reason for so many screen names, was due to my lack of knowledge of the computer.   I also enjoyed purchasing the magazines before the seasons began.  I no longer know if the magazine is still produced for the public since I no longer see it advertised.

    But on this story, you blew it.  The best team while West played ball wasn’t invited to the tournament.  That team remained in first place in the polls for a large part of the season.  For the era, this was the best Mountaineer team.

    Unfortunately, the Mountaineers’ point guard broke his leg and the Mountaineers best team was upset in the 1960 Southern Conference tournament.  At that time just the conference tournament was invited to play in the NCAA tournament.  So, that team could not have lost in the early rounds of that tournament.

    #145008

    Agree with your assessment Greg.  Good, but not great.  Very close to great, but just not enough at end of games to get over the hump.

    #145011

    Eugene – our magazine is still in print, and there’s a link to subscription options in almost every article on this site.

    You can also subscribe here:

    Membership Levels

    Or, you can call 304-626-1410 to subscribe over the phone. Just tell them you want the print edition of the Blue & Gold News.

     

    #145016

    Eugene, the 4 color prints a few times a year are by itself still worth the price of admission.  This gets you access to the Silver Lot also.  Small price to pay and you get all the info that Jeff brings.

    #145017

    Good …. maybe Very Good, but not Great.  Two things IMO (and most prognosticators here) hampered this team.  First was the lack of depth at 4/5 after Dec 29th when Oscar defected and Cottrell’s injury took him out for the year.  Next was the lack of a very good PG to back up Deuce or allow him to play off the ball more.  Jordan was supposed to be that guy but his D, size and lack of quickness hampered him as he tried to over compensate with ball skills.

    Fast forward to the last couple weeks and we add Grad SR Malik Curry and incoming FR Kobe Johnson and Seth Wilson along with Kedy getting another year under his belt and the depth at PG is significantly better.

    Then add Rim protector Dimon Carrigan and a healthy? Cottrell and a year under Seny’s belt to back up Gabe and Derek and the 4/5 slots immediately become a strong point again.  ……  That is if the Bigs don’t fall into the same mode of thinking that when two are on the floor they both need their feet in the paint at the same time.  This is what hampered us with Oscar and Derek on the floor at the same time.

    Now ….. This is all well and good IF…… Deuce, Derek, Taz and Sean all return. Time will tell and the portal still has some options left.

    #145022

    Greg’s story is correct. WVU made it to the NCAAs in 1960, Jerry West’s senior year. The Mountaineers beat Navy, lost by one to NYU in the regional semis, then beat St. Joseph’s in the regional 3rd place game.

    Don Vincent’s broken leg occurred in the semis of the 1958 Southern Conference tourney and his absence contributed to No. 1-ranked WVU’s shocking loss to Manhattan in the NCAAs.

    #145025

    Eugene, as Kevin said, we still publish the Blue & Gold News in print form, and that same edition is available online with a subscription. Click the “Magazine” link on the banner at the top of the page to find out more.

    I remember that speaking event in Fort Ashby. It was fun.

    As for the history part, WVU did earn a spot in the NCAA men’s tournament all three varsity seasons that Jerry West played (1958-60) which was part of a run of six straight seasons that the Mountaineers played in the NCAA (1955-60). That six-year stretch also included Hot Rod Hundley’s three varsity seasons (1955-57), though the Mountaineers lost first round NCAA games in each of those three Hot Rod years.

    As Dropout said, Don Vincent broke his leg in the 1958 Southern Conference tournament, but the Mountaineers still easily won that tourney and thus earned an NCAA berth. That was West’s sophomore year, and arguably the best Mountaineer team he played on (and probably ever in program history( – even more talent than the following season when WVU made a run to the NCAA championship – but the loss of Vincent did apparently have a huge impact in West Virginia’s first round NCAA loss to Manhattan.

    Here is WVU’s NCAA history:

    Year Round Opponent Result
    1955 First Round LaSalle L 61–95
    1956 First Round Dartmouth L 59–61 OT
    1957 First Round Canisius L 56–64
    1958 First Round Manhattan L 84–89
    1959 First Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Elite Eight
    Final Four
    National Championship Game
    Dartmouth
    Saint Joseph’s
    Boston University
    Louisville
    California
    W 82–68
    W 95–92
    W 86–82
    W 94–79
    L 70–71
    1960 First Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Regional Third Place Game
    Navy
    NYU
    Saint Joseph’s
    W 94–86
    L 81–82 OT
    W 106–100
    1962 First Round Villanova L 75–90
    1963 First Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Regional Third Place Game
    Connecticut
    Saint Joseph’s
    NYU
    W 77–71
    L 88–97
    W 83–73
    1965 First Round Providence L 67–91
    1967 First Round Princeton L 59–68
    1982 First Round
    Second Round
    North Carolina A&T
    Fresno State
    W 62–53
    L 56–97
    1983 First Round James Madison L 50–57
    1984 First Round
    Second Round
    Oregon State
    Maryland
    W 64–62
    L 77–102
    1986 First Round Old Dominion L 64–72
    1987 First Round Western Kentucky L 62–64
    1989 First Round
    Second Round
    Tennessee
    Duke
    W 84–68
    L 63–70
    1992 First Round Missouri L 78–89
    1998 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Temple
    Cincinnati
    Utah
    W 82–52
    W 75–74
    L 62–65
    2005 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Elite Eight
    Creighton
    Wake Forest
    Texas Tech
    Louisville
    W 63–61
    W 111–105 2OT
    W 65–60
    L 75–83 OT
    2006 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Southern Illinois
    Northwestern State
    Texas
    W 64–46
    W 67–54
    L 71–74
    2008 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Arizona
    Duke
    Xavier
    W 75–65
    W 73–67
    L 75–79 OT
    2009 First Round Dayton L 60–68
    2010 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Elite Eight
    Final Four
    Morgan State
    Missouri
    Washington
    Kentucky
    Duke
    W 77–50
    W 68–59
    W 69–56
    W 73–66
    L 57–78
    2011 First Round
    Second Round
    Clemson
    Kentucky
    W 84–76
    L 63–71
    2012 First Round Gonzaga L 54–77
    2015 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Buffalo
    Maryland
    Kentucky
    W 68–62
    W 69–59
    L 39–78
    2016 First Round Stephen F. Austin L 56–70
    2017 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Bucknell
    Notre Dame
    Gonzaga
    W 86–80
    W 83–71
    L 58–61
    2018 First Round
    Second Round
    Sweet Sixteen
    Murray State
    Marshall
    Villanova
    W 85–68
    W 94–71
    L 78–90
    2021 First Round
    Second Round
    Morehead State
    Syracuse
    W 84–67
    L 72–75
    #145028

    The stretch in February was solid.  Two extremely tough OT losses to Baylor and Oklahoma, and without those an undefeated February.  WVU was humming, then March sputtered.  The end of that February trip was rough, that lingering Texas week long road trip.  Culver also hit a wall, exhausted/sick, hampered from being abused down low all year, lots of reasons.

    It was a tough March, the buzzer loss to Oklahoma State losing early in the Big 12 tournament.  We usually make a nice run in that tournament.

    Syracuse was such a tough matchup.  WVU did not defend the 3 well last year, we ironically out shot teams as opposed to grinding them to low scoring games where WVU wins.  Buddy and the rest of Syracuse shot at an extremely high clip and those first 15 minutes getting a feel for an unorthodox HOF structured Boeheim zone was just enough to chip us out in round 32.

    You could smell, but not taste how good WVU could have been had some things gone the other way in March, but that’s the difference between good and great sometimes.

     

    #145096

    I was not referring to the weekly print addition, which I purchased for a number of years. I was referring to the preseason magazine that was on-sale before the beginning of the football and basketball seasons. If memory serves me right, the magazines began with about 400 pages, but was later cut back to approximately 250 pages.

    I thought for the time period in the late 1980’s, the weekly paper was great. Mountaineer News was so hard to come by in that era, and the Blue-Gold News was just the ticket. I can’t remember for certain, but I think the paper began operation just after the WVU-Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl game.

    Now with the Mountaineer news being so wide spread, I don’t have the time to truly value print additions. But I would like the preseason magazine listing the players, schedules, etc that I once purchased.

    #145101

    Thanks for the correction. I do recall Jerry West speaking about the Mountaineers best team and their misfortune in the tournament. My memory must have failed me, because I was thinking the Mountaineers’ best team didn’t make the tournament, not that they lost in the first round.

    I’m glad that more teams are now being accepted into the tournament. I’m also glad that freshmen are allowed to play varsity basketball. How many points would Jerry West, and Rod Hundley have scored if they had the extra year that is now available to players?

    I’m also glad that some of the other basketball changes happened, such as the way women’s basketball was played in that era. At the time of the Mountaineers and Jerry West, the high school girls teams consisted of six active players, three offensive and three defensive. They did not cross the center line during a game. The girls either played offense or they played defense.

    #145102

    Thanks for the listing of the Mountaineers’ games in the NCAA tournament. It brought back memories that I had forgotten.

    #145105

    I was not referring to the weekly print addition, which I purchased for a number of years. I was referring to the preseason magazine that was on-sale before the beginning of the football and basketball seasons. If memory serves me right, the magazines began with about 400 pages, but was later cut back to approximately 250 pages.

    We have never printed anything with that number of pages. You are probably thinking of the media guides, produced by WVU, and later made available to the public for purchase.

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Home Page forums WVU’s Basketball Season Was Good But Not Quite Great

Home Page forums WVU’s Basketball Season Was Good But Not Quite Great