By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins and his West Virginia University basketball team have not given up on this season yet.
“We can still make a run. We can conceivably get ourselves on the bubble or better,” the coach said before his team held its Friday practice and left for today’s 1:30 p.m. game at Texas Tech.
Asked if his team, which stands at 9-11 and 2-5 in Big 12 play, actually buys into that, Huggins offered the following, somewhat sarcastically.
“They follow me blindly. Haven’t you noticed that yet?”
He was, however, not far off from the truth.
“Everyone wants to believe they have some hope,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a hard sell.”
Indeed, he is facing a team in Texas Tech that has had its share of problems. The Red Raiders stand at 9-9 and like the Mountaineers are 2-5 in conference play. What’s more, they are a team that has suffered through deep internal problems, with interim head coach Chris Walker having replaced Bill Gillespie when players went to the athletic director to complain about abusive treatment from the coach.
“I’ll just say this: It’s not a tough situation anymore,” Walker said recently to the Charleston Daily Mail. “I think some of the things that happened on the outside are colored a different way on the inside.”
Perhaps, but Tech is one of the bottom-rung teams in the Big 12, as are four of the next five opponents the Mountaineers face, giving hope that a run can be made.
Coming off a strong showing, but a loss, against Kansas, there is reason to believe.
But any push would have to come right now.
“We’re in a position where we have to win more than those (upcoming four games against weaker teams),” Huggins said. “That would be a great start; we’re in a position where we have to win a lot more than that.”
With Texas Tech followed by another Monday night ESPN spectacular, this against a Texas team that also is dragging along at the bottom, WVU could certainly find a way to string a couple of wins together.
“Win the next two and we’re 11-11 and 4-5. It makes it respectable, and then we have to go on a big-time run and beat some people at their place,” Huggins said. “We have a long way to go. It’s not like a sport where you don’t have anything left. We still have 10 games left, plus the conference tournament.”
It isn’t like the Mountaineers go into Texas Tech at full strength, however.
Terry Henderson, who injured his back in the Kansas game, was not 100 percent at practice on Thursday, and shooter Matt Humphrey, who missed the Kansas game with a shoulder problem, did not practice on Thursday.
“He has swelling in his shoulder and unfortunately, it’s in his left shoulder. I would doubt he’ll be able to go,” Huggins said. “The good news is that structurally it’s not different than it was. The bad news is he’s got swelling and inflammation in it.”
Certainly West Virginia finds itself as a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament and must actually play really well down the stretch to qualify for the NIT.
Huggins was asked if the program could benefit by playing in the NIT.
“To be honest, I don’t think anyone wants to talk about that yet,” he said. “They set out the season saying they wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
The challenge that Texas Tech offers is one of being a team of many defenses and with some versatile big players who can put the ball in the basket.
“The biggest thing that stands out on offense is all three of their bigs are shooting over 50 percent from the field,” he continued. “They’re efficient around the basket. They take good shots and make a lot of them they shoot.”
The key player is Jaye Crockett, a 6-7, 200-pound redshirt junior forward who comes off the bench to lead them in scoring.
“He will probably be the league’s sixth man of the year again,” Huggins said.
But from here on out it isn’t about how the teams facing West Virginia play, but about how the Mountaineers go about their business, trying to find ways to win the games they’ve been losing through the season’s first half.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.