By Cam Huffman
With Monday night’s 71-61 loss on the road at No. 13 Kansas State, the frustrations continued for the West Virginia University basketball team.
Now 13-13 overall and 6-7 in Big 12 play, West Virginia has gone all year without beating a team ranked in the top 25 and played 13 conference games without beating a team with a winning record.
Asked after that game what the difference was for a team that had won four of its last five games before looking totally overmatched against the Wildcats in a contest that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score, Huggins gave a realistic response.
“The opposition,” he said, pointing out the obvious. “They’re a good basketball team.”
As Huggins implied, the Mountaineers’ winning run was somewhat deceiving. They were 4-1 in the month of February heading into Monday’s game, but the wins — over Texas Tech (twice), Texas and TCU — came against teams with a combined 30-43 record, and the loss was a 20-point blowout at Baylor.
In five games against ranked opponents this season, WVU has been outscored 362-297. Two of them — 65-64 at home against then-No. 18 Kansas State on Jan. 12 and 61-56 at home against then-No. 2 Kanas on Jan. 28 — were close, but the Mountaineers couldn’t finish the job.
“We’re due,” said Huggins, whose team will face two more ranked foes before the end of the regular season, Saturday at home against No. 14 Oklahoma State and March 2 at No. 9 Kansas. “We’ve had chances. Let’s be honest. We could have beaten Kansas State at home. We didn’t, but we could have.
“The problem is that we have chances and we don’t take advantage of them.”
With just five games left on the schedule, all against Big 12 foes with winning records, the end of the season will be a major challenge. But always a competitor, Huggins isn’t ready to throw in the towel yet.
“Do I think we can win? I think we can,” he said. “Who knows, we may make a run and win the Big 12 Tournament. I don’t think it’s ever over.”
WVU will have four former players competing in this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Geno Smith (quarterback), Tavon Austin (wide receiver), Stedman Bailey (wide receiver) and Joe Madsen (offensive line) will all showcase their skills in front of scouts and executives, part of the intense evaluation leading up to April’s NFL Draft.
NFL Network will provide live coverage of the event beginning Saturday at 9 a.m. with offensive linemen, tight ends and kickers. Sunday at 9 a.m., coverage will begin of running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks.
The coverage of Smith, though, will be a little more intense.
The Miami native is one of four prospects taking part in the NFL Network’s “Draft Journey,” which will provide a behind-the-scenes look at how players prepare for careers in the NFL. Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo will also be part of the show.
WVU has had at least one player selected in the NFL Draft each year since 2006. Last year, three players were selected, including Bruce Irvin in the first round.
Adam “Pacman” Jones was the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft, the highest a Mountaineer player has ever been selected. Smith, projected by some draft experts as the No. 1 overall pick, has a chance to break that record.
The Randy Mazey era at WVU officially began last weekend, as the Mountaineers’ new baseball coach put his team on the field for the first time.
On the road at North Florida University in Jacksonville, Fla., WVU dropped the first two games 4-0 and 7-6 before winning 4-3 on Sunday to hand Mazey his first victory as a Mountaineer.
WVU will play Youngstown State Friday in Winston-Salem, N.C., and then play a doubleheader Saturday, the first with Youngstown State and the second with Wake Forest. The weekend will conclude with a game against Wake Forest on Sunday.
The Mountaineers’ first home game will be March 5 against Eastern Kentucky in Morgantown. Their first Big 12 game will be at Kansas State on March 15, and their first of 11 games at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park will be March 19 against Marshall.
WVU will play in Beckley at Linda K. Epling Stadium April 26-28 for three games against Kansas and on May 14 against Marshall.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.