FORT WORTH, Texas — After West Virginia disposed of another Big 12 bottom-feeder, Bob Huggins planned to feed on brisket.
“We’re going to get us some barbecue, get on that plane and head back” to Morgantown, said a grinning and gratified Huggins after Saturday’s 63-50 win at TCU.
His placated tone portrayed a stark contrast to 17 days ago at the WVU Coliseum and the first time the Mountaineers defeated TCU. The season seemed a little more hopeless back then, and Huggins’ team far more unsettled, to a degree where the coach lamented after that win, “I’m not very happy.”
So how, between then and now, did Huggins happen upon his happy place?
“You know what I decided? I decided I’ve never been through a year like this and I’m not going to be unhappy with any win,” he said.
Well, if by any win he means those that come at the expense of aimless, gaffe-prone, confidence-poor teams, then WVU is on a three-game any streak. By beating Texas Tech, Texas and TCU in the last eight days (teams with a combined league record of 5-23), West Virginia didn’t salvage its season so much as stabilize it. Those three victories netted the Mountaineers merely a 10-spot bump in the RPI to No. 87, which as precedent reminds us, sits barely inside NIT territory.
“There were a lot of people who kinda gave us up for dead,” said Huggins, no doubt becoming the first coach this season to lend resurrection status to a win over TCU.
Now some will argue here how the Terrible Tadpoles suddenly sprang into Fearless Frogs within the span of one hellacious upset of Kansas on Wednesday night. And to those believers in overnight evolution, I recommend they absorb the postgame comments of brutally frank TCU coach Trent Johnson: “Obviously, (Kansas) helped us, a lot, because they didn’t shoot the ball very well and they didn’t play very well. Let’s not kid ourselves.”
Nor should we kid ourselves about West Virginia’s progress, which has been more incremental than monumental. What WVU has accomplished in crunch time against the bottom three teams in the Big 12 hasn’t translated against better opponents. Even the happy Huggins still anguishes a bit over the missed opportunities WVU squandered in home losses to Oklahoma, K-State and Kansas.
While you can’t fault Huggins for saying “I’m happy with the resiliency we have now that we’re back at 5-5″ in the league, the breakdown of that record — 5-0 against the worst three teams, 0-5 against the top six — clearly reflects the lower middle-class station WVU occupies.
(Of course, that station looks pretty good from the perspective of TCU’s Johnson: “I’m all about what West Virginia’s about — being physical and tough. I just can’t wait until we get there.”)
West Virginia’s final eight regular-season games include seven against teams ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects to make the NCAA tournament. Huggins, before departing for his team’s barbecue dinner at 30,000 feet, offered a forecast about those teams stacked ahead of seventh-place WVU in the Big 12: “There are going to be some other (teams) who lose and fall to us.”
With apologies to the wise, old coach, he was mistaken on that parting point. Those elite teams will not fall to WVU, but rather WVU must rise to them.