Bob Huggins won his 900th game as a college basketball head coach on Mar. 19, 2021. His West Virginia Mountaineers defeated Morehead State 84-67 in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. He became the sixth Division I coach to reach the milestone. There’s a good chance he catches Jim Calhoun for the third-most wins all-time this season (918), but his focus remains on returning to the Big Dance. Though the Mountaineers aren’t ranked in the preseason Top 25, Huggins is confident that history will repeat itself.
West Virginia students are ecstatic to roam their Morgantown campus once again. Voices are chipper and strides have a pop as young men and women grace the familiar grounds and wander the banks of the Monongahela River. The red brick is happy to have echoes bouncing off it and the lush trees are content to shade and drop their autumn leaves on people instead of empty spots in the shadows.
When asked if the students were excited to be back, Bob Huggins simply shared, “Oh yeah, the student section has been packed in football.”
And basketball season is right around the corner. They battled the obstacles of COVID last year, and now that things are seemingly normal, they must find a way to replace two great players.
Bob Huggins and West Virginia were granted a 3-seed in the 2020-21 NCAA Tournament but were ousted in the Round of 32 by Syracuse—who always tends to “upset” a few teams. They finished the season with a 19-10 overall record, 11-6 in the loaded Big 12. The program also had six games postponed or canceled, so it was difficult to fall into a groove, as was the case for many schools.
“We stopped and started so much. It was almost like you were coaching a different team, I don’t want to say every day, but quite a bit,” Huggins explained. “One day you don’t have your center, one day you don’t have your point guard. It was rough. I think it was really rough on [the players]; for [the coaches], it was just a matter of who you were going to have on a daily basis.”
Huggins and his staff adapted as seasoned veterans do, and they promoted the same approach to the team. There is a standard to meet at West Virginia and the players are aware of such. The student-athletes didn’t let virtual learning or the lack of being social affect their academics, mindset, or play. The team has a resilient comradery on and off the court.
“The guys got used to it. It’s like anything else, you do it enough you get used to it. Our guys are really pretty good at helping each other.”
Even though last season was abnormal for all, West Virginia maintained their strength as a unit.
The university extended Bog Huggins with a two-year contract over the summer. This keeps the coach in Morgantown at least through the 2023-24 season. He continues to earn a longer stay, as if his tenure was ever in question, and his expertise will be needed to once again survive conference play.
The Big 12 is one of the best basketball conferences in the nation. The defending national champions, Baylor, will be strong once again, and the league received seven bids to the NCAA Tournament last season. The league has three teams in the Top 10 to start the year. Of course, Texas and Oklahoma will eventually leave for the SEC in a football-related move, but the additions of BYU, Central Florida, Houston, and Cincinnati—Huggins’ old program (1989-2005) where he earned 399 of his wins—are solid replacements.
Huggins said of the Big 12, “I think it’s probably stronger if that’s possible. When you look at the history of this league, which most people don’t for whatever reason, we’ve had more draft picks than any other league—or at least just as many—even though we’re one of the smallest leagues team-wise. The teams we’ve placed in the NCAA Tournament over the years is astounding.”
Last season, West Virginia finished fourth in the conference and is projected to finish fifth this season. They also finished the 2020-21 campaign ranked 13th in the nation, but the departures of Miles McBride and Derek Culver have left big sneakers to fill. Huggins remains very confident in his roster even though two of the team’s stars are no longer in the program.
He addressed the changes, “Those two are huge losses. Huge. But I think our other guys are excited about the challenge. I think we have a lot of guys who are very capable of having big years.”
West Virginia is not ranked in the preseason Top 25, nor did they receive any votes for consideration.
Huggins stated, “I think it will be foolish for anyone to say we won’t end up being a ranked team. I think it’s foolish for anyone to think weren’t not going to play in the NCAA Tournament. We are. I heard in a social studies class I was in at one point that history repeats itself. I think it probably will. ”
The Mountaineers begin their new campaign with a charity event with Akron on Oct. 29. The regular season begins Nov. 9 against Oakland.
The coach has recently expressed his thoughts about altering the college basketball postseason. For now, expect West Virginia and Bob Huggins to be back in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the 2021-22 regular season, and primed for a deep run.
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