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January 15, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Home court no longer an advantage

MORGANTOWN — Has the Coliseum lost its magic?

Certainly a case can be made that the cozy confines of the Coliseum are not so cozy any longer.

When Texas dismantled WVU, 80-69, in a game that seemed even far more one-sided than that, it marked WVU’s fourth consecutive home defeat. The losses have been to Gonzaga, Purdue, Oklahoma State and Texas.

Considering that the Coliseum is a building that had seen West Virginia win 77.3 percent of its games since opening in 1970, this can be considered something of abnormality, but not nearly as much as it once was.

Just two years ago, WVU also dropped four consecutive home games, its final four Big East home games in the Coliseum to Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville and Marquette.

When one considers that from the 2005 to the 2007 season WVU lost only five home games combined, going 43-5 during that span, the illusion of near invincibility on the home court has eroded rapidly.

In truth, it is really a continuation of a long-standing slide.

Here is the decade-by-decade breakdown in the Coliseum:

1980s – 131-25 .840

1990s – 108-30 .783

2000s – 113-34 .769

2010s – 36-17 .679

It is down .090 percentage points since the last decade and and .161 since the 1980s.

And most recently the home court has been no advantage at all.

This season WVU is 5-4 at home and, to be honest, figures to finish with a losing home record considering that five of the final seven home games are against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas.

WVU does not figure to beat any of those teams and, to date this year, has shown a total inability to win games in which it has not been favored.

Looking even deeper into WVU’s home record of late, since a 10-1 home start in 2012, WVU is but 14-13 at home and in today’s basketball no team can contend for a league title, let alone a national title, winning just half of its home games.

The fall-off has come since Bob Huggins led the Mountaineers to the Final Four in 2010, which represents the modern peak of the WVU program.

Since then much has transpired to work against the program, including recruits being counted upon as productive players either leaving or failing to even so much as qualify.

Two players, in this disappointing season, fall into that category in Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, while Huggins turned away a number of decent players trying to rebuild his roster to be more in line with Big 12 play.

The move to the Big 12, of course, has had much to do with the decline in the program and in the home record.

Face it. It was more fun to face Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, Jim Calhoun and Connecticut and Jamie Dixon and Pitt than it is to face an almost anonymous cast out of most of the Big 12 teams who share little in common with WVU including a time zone.

That had to affect attendance some, and certainly no one can deny that attendance is slipping.

Part can be blamed on the conference change, part on the team’s performance, but also there was a change in the student section seating which didn’t help make them a bigger factor than they were while trying to turn the Coliseum into some kind of fancy-dandy basketball destination with a club and alcohol, along with plans for beer sales.

Increasing donation requirements and reseating longtime ticket holders angered a number of fans and led to the cancellation of tickets by some or cutting back on the number of tickets purchased by others.

The result added to the grumbling as the team’s performance fell from national elite, resulting in a different atmosphere in the Coliseum, one which was best captured in the Texas game when WVU found itself down 21 points with fans rushing toward the exits as if a fire alarm had sounded.

The shame is that this seemed to be a team on the verge of finding itself prior to the Texas game and that really might have taken off a run that would include some unexpected home victories until losing to Texas.

Now, however, the outlook is bleak because WVU has over and over proven itself to be lacking what it needs to get past the better teams in its conference and the nation … and without a strong home base such upsets don’t appear on the radar.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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