Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

Cincinnati could very well be at both ends of the saga that was the WVU men’s hoops season

MORGANTOWN — May 8, 2023, that’s the target point as the beginning of the saga known as this WVU men’s basketball season.

March 12, 2024 could very well be the end of it, as the Mountaineers (9-22) walk into the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo. to take part in the play-in round of the Big 12 tournament at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

That’s 309 days, for those counting at home. The odd thing about it all is, in some way, Cincinnati was there at the start and could be there today to bang the final nail into the Mountaineers’ coffin.


“Looks like we’ll be seeing them soon,” WVU head coach Josh Eilert said after WVU’s 92-56 road loss against Cincinnati last Saturday to close out the regular season.

Minutes after that game, it was confirmed that the Bearcats (18-13) would indeed play an immediate rematch against the Mountaineers in the play-in round.

Cincinnati is the 11th seed in the Big 12 tournament, while WVU is the 14th seed.

But, if we go back to the beginning, it was Bob Huggins’ radio interview with 700 WLW — located in Cincinnati — that first began the downward spiral to the Mountaineers’ season.

In that interview, Huggins used anti-gay and anti-Catholic slurs that, at first, cost him some money and a three-game suspension.

Huggins apologized, committed himself to donating money to different organizations, and it seemed like it was going to be a normal summer.

Then came Huggins’ DUI arrest in Pittsburgh on June 17. His resignation was announced the following day and Eilert was named the interim a week later.

It’s easy to say Eilert was thrust into a no-win situation, and as it turned out, that’s exactly what transpired.

WVU has already set a program record in losses for one season.

The Mountaineers have been beaten by 36 points — including the last game with the Bearcats — twice this season — both are the most lopsided defeats since joining the Big 12. They were beaten by 34 points on another occasion, by now No. 1-ranked Houston.

And by the second half of last week’s loss against Cincinnati, it looked as if the players had no more fight left in them.

“This team has been very inconsistent with their mind set,” Eilert said. “Sometimes I don’t think they’re ready to play and they come out scorching hot. Sometimes it’s vice versa.

“I’ve been fighting for consistency each and every night, but we haven’t got there yet.”

If today’s play-in game is anything like last week, expect Cincinnati to come out and play a physical brand of basketball, while keeping WVU center Jesse Edwards as frustrated as possible.

The Bearcats limited Edwards to just eight points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

“We’ve been working with Jesse on his balance all year long,” Eilert said. “When he plays with tenacity and toughness and takes things personal, he’s a different player.

“We’ve also seen where bodies have been thrown at him and they’re really physical with him. That really affects him.”

The winner of today’s game will advance to play Kansas at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

If it’s not West Virginia, then the city and then the University of Cincinnati would have been at the start and the end of what would be the worst season — statistically — in program history.

“We’ll see how we respond,” Eilert said. “If we don’t have a bad taste in our mouths for three-straight days, and we don’t compete at the highest level on Tuesday, then we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out if we really want to play the game of basketball.”


WHEN: 3 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Mo.
TV: ESPN+ (Online subscription needed)