KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The ice bag strapped to Juwan Staten’s ankle put a chill in whatever postseason hopes West Virginia held. Ankle sprains can stretch day-to-day or week-to-week, and a bad wheel can be especially debilitating for a point guard who lives off explosive drives and zippy changes-of-direction.
Staten said not to worry. He’ll be back.
“Whether we play in a few days or a week or whatever, it doesn’t matter. The next game we play, I’ll be playing.”
On Friday, Staten was walking without crutches, but even if Staten’s ankle heals, what about his psyche and that of his teammates? Having sniffed the NCAA bubble for the past month, would West Virginia (17-15) manufacture excitement for an NIT berth? Or was the embarrassing Big 12 tournament exit against Texas a will breaker?
“Every game that we get to play together and build some more chemistry is great for the future,” Staten said. “Knowing that we’re not going to make it to the (NCAA) tournament is tough, but we still have games ahead of us.”
With a roster devoid of seniors, Eron Harris said any postseason bid would be a chance to continue development. Gary Browne promised the team would embrace whatever matchup awaits in whatever venue. And Kevin Noreen, irked by gaffes committed during the 66-49 loss to Texas, said several motivational points remain.
“If it’s not for a trophy, then we want to play for each other, for Coach Huggins, for team pride and for the people that have supported us all year,” Noreen said. “We can end the year on a high note … and get this bad taste out of our mouth.”
WHERE’S THE BID?
NIT bracketologist John Templon—yes, such a person exists—projected West Virginia as No. 3 seed in the Georgetown region. As of early Friday, Templon had the Mountaineers hosting a first-round NIT game against No. 6 seed Iona (22-10), the regular-season champion of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
And for those who belittle the quality NIT lineup, the Gaels currently have an RPI of 60, which is 27 spots higher than West Virginia’s.