With WVU’s football team struggling mightily, many Mountaineer fans took a page from the old Simon & Garfunkel “Mrs. Robinson” song.
Instead of Joe DiMaggio, however, Mountaineer nation turned its lonely eyes to the WVU basketball team.
What it found on Tuesday night, however, was a performance against Oakland that earned this headline in the Wheeling newspaper: WVU Struggles In Season-Opening Win.
Indeed, the Mountaineers’ performance was underwhelming. “If you count, which we do, rebounding as part of defense, we sucked,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
Yet the feeling after watching the game seemed familiar. Hasn’t WVU’s team been here before? Haven’t the Mountaineers played poorly yet come back to post a good season?
I went back over the last five seasons to see.
What I’ve found out is, yes, WVU has been able to rebound from such performances. But there seem to be limits.
Here’s what I mean.
Last season: In nonconference games, the Mountaineers barely got by San Diego State, VCU and Western Kentucky. Then they almost beat Gonzaga in the Jimmy V. Classic, losing 87-82, and finished 19-10, losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In 2019-20: It was the season that Covid claimed, stopping college basketball in its tracks around conference tournament time. It was disappointing to WVU fans because the Mountaineers were 21-10. Yet in nonconference play, West Virginia barely beat Akron (10 points) and Northern Colorado (8) at home. In Mexico, the Mountaineers defeated Northern Iowa 60-55.
Notice, like on Tuesday, WVU won those games.
In 2018-19: When West Virginia finished 15-21, it lost to Buffalo. It lost to Western Kentucky. It nudged Lehigh, Jacksonville State and Rider.
Then there are those two killer WVU seasons of 2017-18 and 2016-17. Both WVU seasons had a blindside nonconference loss. In the first, the Mountaineers were crushed by Texas A&M in Germany by 88-65. In the second, West Virginia lost to Temple in Brooklyn.
In 2017-18: The Mountaineers, which finished 26-11 and barely lost to Villanova in the NCAA Sweet 16, demolished most of their underdog nonconference opponents, including American, Morgan State, Long Beach State, UCF, NJIT, Coppin State and Fordham. (They did barely get by Marist in Florida.)
In 2016-17: WVU finished 28-9, barely losing (by 2) to Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. As mentioned, the Mountaineers lost to Temple. Yet they crushed Mount St. Mary’s, Mississippi Valley State, New Hampshire, UMKC, VMI, Western Carolina, Radford and Northern Kentucky.
The lesson? If recent history is any indication, the Mountaineers can still have a good season despite the underwhelming first game performance. But if they are to have a great season, it seems they’ll have to start flying much higher.
Finally, a tip of the cap to WVU women’s basketball coach Mike Carey for the three signees announced Wednesday. Once again, Carey and staff are bringing excellence to the Coliseum.
First, he signed Imarianah “Mari” Russell of Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
How good is Mari? ESPN has the guard as a four-star recruit and the No. 83 player overall. The All-Star Girls Report has her No. 113 nationally. She could have gone to Ohio State, Pitt, Indiana, etc.
Second, he signed Avery “Ace” Strickland, another guard, out of Knoxville, Tenn.
How good is Ace? The All-Star Girls Report has her No. 101 nationally and the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report has her at No. 115.
Finally, Carey signed Yonta Vaughn of District Heights, Md.
How good is Yonta? She was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, checks in as the No. 49 player in the class of 2022 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, while All-Star Girls Report rates her at No. 66 nationally and ESPN ranks her as the No. 72 player in the country. Additionally, Vaughn is rated as the No. 16 point guard in this year’s class by ESPN.
Carey’s recruiting excellence continues.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.