MORGANTOWN — Besides the obvious adoption of the “Press Virginia” moniker and style of play, West Virginia basketball has changed significantly since ESPN’s College Gameday show first visited the WVU Coliseum almost 10 years ago.
“This has always been a great basketball school,” said Rece Davis, the host of College Gameday. “There’s some great history here with tremendous players and a lot of winning.”
The Gameday crew first came to Morgantown on March 3, 2009 ahead of the regular season finale against No. 6 Louisville. At the time, it was the largest crowd to be on-hand for College Gameday, and even WVU legend Jerry West made an appearance during the hour-long show.
Ultimately, the Mountaineers narrowly fell to the Cardinals 62-59 later that night, but in a way, it set the stage for the evolution of WVU basketball.
The very next year, WVU completed one of the most successful seasons in program history. Led by senior forward Da’Sean Butler, WVU won the Big East Conference tournament championship, advanced to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, defeating top-seeded Kentucky in the process, and finished No. 3 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll.
One of the biggest changes that occurred was the construction of the $23.6 million, state-of-the-art basketball practice facility that completed at the beginning of 2011. It gave WVU the facilities and resources necessary to better compete with other programs on a national level.
Not long after that, in 2012, WVU underwent probably the biggest change when it left the Big East and joined the Big 12 Conference.
“The Big 12 brings a new generation of basketball to West Virginia,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg.
The program went through some growing pains in the new league as it tried to adjust. The Mountaineers had a 13-19 record during the 2012-2013 season and a 17-16 record during the 2013-2014 season.
“Generally speaking, every league has good teams, but there’s still a transition to be made when you move into a new conference, and I think West Virginia has handled that beautifully,” Davis said.
Thanks largely to head coach Bob Huggins’ transition to playing a full-court press on defense, WVU broke out of its slump with a 25-10 record for the 2014-2015 season that culminated in a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Over the next two years, WVU would go on to have two more +25-win seasons, including another berth in the Sweet 16 just last year.
“(WVU) has just gotten better and better,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas. “I think the reputation of the press has taken hold. Bob (Huggins) is a recognizable figure that has become a fixture here. It’s hard to remind yourself that he’s been here a long time now. (WVU) now has a brand and feel to it that everyone has gotten used to.”