Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

One year later, West Virginia realizes the stakes are still high during Big 12 tourney and dealing with COVID-19

MORGANTOWN — It was nearly this time last year when the West Virginia men’s basketball team was in the ballroom of the Kansas City Marriott Downtown going through its plan on how the Mountaineers would attack Oklahoma later that day.

With no warning, the Mountaineers suddenly had bigger worries than just defending the Sooners.

We all did.


The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the college basketball world on March 12, 2020.

The Big 12 Tournament was shut down. The NCAA Tournament was canceled hours later and the top teams from around the country were told to go home, wondering what might have been.

“Having the rug pulled out from under you and your team, I don’t think anybody ever wants to feel that again,” WVU point guard Deuce McBride said earlier this season.

In all the days and months that have passed since, the 10th-ranked Mountaineers (18-8, 11-6 Big 12) are about to land in Kansas City once again, happy to have the opportunity to play for something it missed out on last year, but they will also be walking on eggshells a bit, too.

“Me and the rest of the team know that it can be taken away at any minute. We saw that last year,” WVU forward Derek Culver said. “Getting it taken away last year kind of drained you a little bit.

“We know we can’t take anything for granted. We’re going to play every game we have like our last game, because at this point, it could be.”

The atmosphere around the Big 12 Tournament and Kansas City will be much different in 2021.

According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, all 10 teams will be located and quarantined in the same hotel.

“The entire travel party for each team will be tested every day,” Bowlsby said. “Beyond that, they’ll be taking meals in the hotel. They won’t be going out. There will be an effort to keep the Tier 1 (most essential) people separated from those that are in Tier 2. There are some things that will definitely be different from previous years.”

Much of the COVID-19 protocols WVU coaches and players will face are similar to what they’ve faced for much of this season.

“If you want to win at the highest level, there’s really nothing that comes along with this that isn’t worth it,” WVU forward Jalen Bridges said. “Every experience, you can learn from it. If you really want to do something with basketball, I think it’s all worth it.”

The difference is now the stakes are so much higher.

A couple of positive tests and eliminating some others through contact tracing now doesn’t just mean a two-week break and then picking up where you left off.

It means you’re out of the Big 12 Tournament, possibly eliminated from the NCAA Tournament and the season comes to another crushing halt.

“They’re all going to wear those little things that tells you how close you are to other people and for how long of a period of time,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “It would depend on contact tracing and whether we’d have enough guys to play.”

One positive test from a coach, player or staff member, Huggins said, wouldn’t necessarily disqualify a team.

“I think initially, that’s what it was,” Huggins said. “I think with the technology that we have now, it may be after they do a very thorough job of contact tracing. It will depend on what comes out of that.”

The Mountaineers will face Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center.

And while McBride has played in 57 career games in college, this will be his first postseason game, after the pandemic canceled everything last year when he was a freshman.

“Being a kid and watching conference tournaments and seeing players like Kemba Walker, or even when Da’Sean (Butler) hit all those game-winners, that’s what you want to be a part of,” he said. “Then having it taken away from you so quickly, it really hurt a lot of us.”

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