MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — That loss against Coastal Carolina in the second round of the CBI was not an ending to months of confusion and drama for West Virginia.
Instead, more storylines have spilled into the Mountaineers’ offseason following a program-worst 21 losses.
Forwards Lamont West and Andrew Gordon entered the NCAA transfer portal Thursday, leaving the just seven scholarship players on the roster heading into the spring signing period that begins April 17.
That was offset somewhat by incoming 6-foot-8 freshman Oscar Tshiebwe finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the McDonald’s All-American game Wednesday.
All of it is just the latest in what was a long season filled with two key injuries to Sagaba Konate and Beetle Bolden, a first-semester suspension to forward Derek Culver and then forwards Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris were dismissed in February.
That was followed by Bolden transferring, along with freshman Trey Doomes, before West and Gordon added their names. Even the final CBI game presented drama, as Culver was suspended for the first half of the 109-91 loss to the Chanticleers.
The ending brought this reflection from coach Bob Huggins:
“I guess the positive is I’ve learned not to compromise your principles for anybody,” he said. “Nobody is more important than the team, which is the way it’s always been. This year, for whatever reason, it’s not what I did. It was my fault, 100-percent my fault.”
As the Mountaineers look to renovate their roster, here are five questions heading into next season:
1. Will Konate return?
There is no definitive answer at the moment, and Huggins said Konate’s return would be a family decision.
“I just want him to be able to make a well-informed decision,” Huggins said..
At the moment, sources inside the program tell The Dominion Post no decision has been made by Konate.
Culver, who was named to the all-Big 12 second team and finished his first season averaging 11.5 points and 9.9 rebounds, also said he would welcome the opportunity to play next to Konate.
“We haven’t really got to put the product on the floor how we wanted, but you can tell everyone has the feeling of, ‘Wow, imagine if these two really got to jell,’ ” Culver said during the Big 12 tournament. “Nobody could stop us.”
If Konate returns and his right knee is back to full health, it creates a lot of optimism for next season, because the Mountaineers potentially would have one of the more talented front lines in the country with Konate, Culver and Tshiebwe.
“If you add all three of us, that trio together could really …” Culver began before tailing off. “I really honestly hope we can get to that. Having two other high-volume players like that, I don’t understand how we would make any team worse.”
2. Will anyone else leave the team?
Guard Chase Harler said he was set to return for his senior year and looked forward to playing with the nucleus of guys who helped win two games at the Big 12 tournament.
“With the group we have, we’ll start doing some things and get in the weight room again,” he said. “By summer, we’ll have the new guys in. There are things that we didn’t do this season that we can do differently next season.”
Jermaine Haley has spent his entire college career moving around, first starting at New Mexico State, before enrolling at Odessa (Texas) Junior College and then at West Virginia.
“I’m really looking forward to just having a second year at the same place,” Haley said. “I’m looking forward to coming back with these same guys and going back to work and trying to improve for next season.”
WVU signed Tshiebwe and Ohio point guard Miles McBride, but Huggins still has four scholarships to give, and at least two of those he would like to target junior-college guards who could play right away.
If that happens, playing time at the guard spots could be interesting with Harler, Haley, McBride, Jordan McCabe and Brandon Knapper already on the roster. Adding two more guards would give WVU seven, which is a lot.
3. Who will WVU sign?
The two juco guards high on the Mountaineers’ wish list are Sean McNeil from Sinclair (Ohio) Community College and Tajzmel “Taz” Sherman out of Collin College in Texas.
Both are high-scoring. McNeil, who is 6-4, led all junior college Division II players at 29.7 points per game and scored 55 in just his fourth game of the season. He shot 43.1 percent (132-of-225) from 3-point range.
Sherman, also 6-4, finished fourth in junior college Division I at 25.9 points per game. He shot 39.3 percent (94-of-239) from 3-point range.
McNeil has three years of eligibility remaining and Sherman has two.
WVU is also in the running for 6-7 forward Kenyon Martin Jr., the son of Kenyon Martin, who was a standout at Cincinnati under Huggins.
Martin played at Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, Calif., where he averaged 20.4 points and 9.7 rebounds as a senior. The school won a second consecutive California Open Division state championship.
WVU also has an offer out to 6-2 guard Clarence Nadolny, who played in prep school this season and led Scotland (Pa.) Campus to a 36-2 record.
4. What’s the schedule look like?
The Mountaineers will play the third of a four-game series against Pitt on Dec. 7 at the Petersen Events Center. They also travel to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for a neutral-court game against Ohio State on Dec. 29.
The Mountaineers also will play Youngstown State on the road, though not at the Penguins’ home arena, as part of a two-for-one.
Rhode Island is scheduled to visit Morgantown next season.
WVU will also play in the Cancun Challenge, which features home games against Northern Colorado (Nov. 18) and Boston University (Nov. 22), before traveling to Cancun to face Northern Iowa (Nov. 26) and either South Carolina or Wichita State (Nov. 27).
The other two key nonconference games likely will be home games in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and the new Big 12/Big East Challenge.
The Big East game is scheduled for December and the opponent is expected to be announced sometime after the NCAA tournament.
The SEC game is played in January and the matchups are generally announced each summer.
WVU still has four non-conference games left to announce.
5. Will WVU make the NCAA field?
OK, it’s prediction time.
A lot of things have to go right for the Mountaineers, beginning with a healthy return of Konate and then Huggins will have to figure out a rotation of Konate, Culver and Tshiebwe.
Emmitt Matthews has to take a step forward in development, as do Haley, Culver and McCabe.
Tshiebwe in no way has to arrive on campus thinking he has to be some sort of savior, but he’s got to be productive.
The other incoming recruits have to be able to provide some quality depth.
And no more drama, please.
At the very least, next season’s schedule appears challenging, with maybe a maximum of seven or eight gimme wins before Big 12 play.
With all of that said, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that WVU returns to the NCAA tournament.
The way-too-early prediction: WVU goes 21-12 and gets a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.