Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Sunday Morning Editorial: The Dark Days of West Virginia Sports

Morgantown, West Virginia - At no point in the history of West Virginia athletics has the football and basketball programs collectively been in such bad shape at the same time. The numbers don't lie and unfortunately West Virginia has been the worst program in the Big 12 Conference over the last 5 years. It's never been easy to be a West Virginia fan. There has been plenty of heartache and frustration over the years, but at this point we're approaching complete, widespread apathy. In football, West Virginia is 14-21 in conference play since Neal Brown has been the head coach of the Mountaineers. Only Texas Tech (13-23) and Kansas (5-30) have been worse. Overall, Brown is 22-25, West Virginia has not been in the Top 25 since 2018, there have been zero program-defining wins, no progress on the field, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the Mountaineers. West Virginia was 5-7 last season. While the fanbase will be told to trust the people in charge, it's difficult to see any reason for hope in 2023. West Virginia has lost numerous quality, proven players to the transfer portal and graduation and have gained mostly players who have performed well at the Group of 5 level. Adding players from Kent State, Middle Tennessee State, Towson, etc., will never be adequate enough to improve a failing Power 5 team like the Mountaineers. Yes, West Virginia also added a tight end from LSU (Kole Taylor - 5 catches, 55 yards last season), a wide receiver from NC State (25 receptions, 406 yards, 2 touchdowns in 2022) and a solid defensive lineman from Penn State (Fatorma Mulbah - no stats in 2022), but no one Neal Brown and his staff have added this offseason can come close to replacing players like Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Charles Woods, Kaden Prather, Jordan Jefferson, Mumu Bin-Wahad, JT Daniels, among many others. So the question begging to be asked is, if West Virginia was bad last year, how are they going to be better next season by downgrading their talent? A few of the new players may certainly be quality additions who could help the team, but it's simply impossible to argue that the Mountaineers have upgraded in any way heading into 2023. With a legendary, Hall of Fame head coach, you'd expect the basketball program to be in better shape, but that simply isn't the case. Over the past 5 years, West Virginia is 28-48 in Big 12 Conference play, which is 9th out of 10 teams, ahead of only Iowa State (25-51). The Mountaineers are 0-5 this season in conference play and have lost five consecutive games. West Virginia is currently 10-7 overall and although they can still be found on NCAA Tournament projections, their upcoming schedule suggests that it's going to be difficult to find another win for a really long time. West Virginia plays #17 TCU on Wednesday night, then #10 Texas, at Texas Tech, against #21 Auburn and then on the road at #17 TCU again. The Mountaineers could potentially win one or two of those games, but the team needs at least nine more wins this season to get to nineteen wins and only have fourteen games remaining. While Bob Huggins has promised that the Mountaineers are going to be better and that they are going to turn this season around, winning 9 out of 14 games to end the season seems like an impossibility at this point. Following this season, the Mountaineers lose starters Jimmy Bell, Jr., Emmitt Matthews, Jr., Kedrian Johnson and Erik Stevenson, as well as talented point guard Joe Toussaint off the bench, and West Virginia simply does not have much to get excited about left on the 2023-2024 roster. In addition, West Virginia currently has no recruits committed to play for the team and so Huggins - if he continues to coach the team next season - will once again have to rely on the transfer portal. Huggins and staff were successful in the portal this last year, but most of the players available will be one-and-done players and the whole cycle will start all over again next year. With that all said, it's hard to see any reason to be hopeful or positive about the football or basketball programs for the foreseeable future. It's truly the Dark Days of West Virginia Sports and although fans of the Mountaineers are some of the most loyal, passionate in the entire country, the product on the field and court has given West Virginia fans nothing to cheer about.

West Virginia Basketball Makes Its First Top 25 of the Season

Cover Photo: WVU Athletics Morgantown, West Virginia - The West Virginia Mountaineers moved to 8-2 this season with an impressive 81-70 victory over the UAB Blazers (7-2) on Saturday and now the Mountaineers are starting to get some respect nationally! In the latest CBS Sports College Basketball Rankings, the Mountaineers actually made the Top 25! West Virginia came in ranked at #25 this week. CBS Sports had the following to say about West Virginia's last game: "Emmitt Matthews finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in Saturday's 81-70 win over UAB. The Mountaineers' next game is Dec. 18 against Buffalo." West Virginia has not been ranked in the Top 25 for a couple of years so getting some national recognition, even this early in the season, is huge for the program!  

West Virginia Sinks Navy

Cover Photo: WVU Athletics Morgantown, West Virginia - The West Virginia Mountaineers moved to 7-2 and 4-0 at home, beating the Navy Midshipmen, 85-64. West Virginia was led by senior forward Tre Mitchell, who had his best game for the Mountaineers, finishing with 19 points (8-12 FG, 3-4 3PT), 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Senior guard Erik Stevenson shot the ball extremely well, particularly in the 1st half, and had 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Starting point guard Kedrian Johnson had 11 points and  7 assists, and Joe Toussaint added 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists off the bench. The Mountaineers are back in action on Saturday, December 10 at home against the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Blazers at 6:00PM. The game will be televised live on ESPN+.

Huggins Extremely Unhappy With Player Effort and Performance in Loss

Cover Photo: AP  Cincinnati, Ohio - The West Virginia Mountaineers (6-2) fell apart late to lose to Xavier (6-3), 84-74 in the Big East/Big 12 Challenge. Following the game, head coach Bob Huggins was clearly unhappy with his team's performance, particularly late in the second half. Here's what Coach Huggins had to say after the loss: "We didn't guard and we didn't make shots in the second half. We had a chance to stay in the game and we missed consecutive shots. They went on the other end and they made consecutive shots. We didn't play defense. They played defense. It's all about attitude. We were a totally different team in the second half. We got in foul trouble. We didn't come back and respond in the way that you would hope that they would. We missed so many layups. We missed so many second-chance points. We missed wide open jump shots. We didn't capitalize on what we should have. The reality is, we gave them obviously too many second shots. We got second shots and we didn't finish them. We missed way too many free throws. They made shots at the end and we didn't. I hope our guys learned that I'm not going to put the West Virginia fans through what they went through last year. These guys have maybe one more chance and then we'll find guys that do what is asked of them. We'll clean it up."

Pat White Submits His Pick for WVU’s Next Athletic Director

Pat White, a legend in his own right in Morgantown, is very vocal when it comes to WVU Athletics. With the firing of athletic director Shane Lyons, White hasn’t been shy to chime in with his opinion on the matter. Earlier today, White even shared his choice of replacement for Lyons in the Athletic Director role. Matt Borman - President of LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation For those of you who haven’t heard of Borman before, he brings with him a tremendous background. Not to mention he also has strong connections to WVU. For starters, Borman is a West Virginia University graduate. He received his masters degree in sports management in Morgantown. Borman also spent time as the executive director of the Mountaineer Athletic Club. Leading fundraisers, he was able to help garner record-setting donations for West Virginia University Athletics. White has certainly done his research on this candidate. It’s hard to argue this, as well. Borman certainly deserves a look from the Mountaineers.

WVU Could Owe Shane Lyons A Lot of Money

(Photo by WVU Athletics)   West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons was forced to resign yesterday, according to a story first broke by Hoppy Kerchival of MetroNews. Lyons, who has been WVU’s athletic director since 2015, was let go mostly due to his extension of Neal Brown that will ultimately cost the university nearly $20 million. Now, the university could also owe Lyons a large amount of cash. With his firing unlikely being due to something unlawful, the university will owe Lyons his remaining contract, totaling roughly $3.724 million, according to a report by WVNews. Lyons was contracted through 2026, with a salary of $895,000 in 2023 and $931,000 for the remaining years. WVU is expected to “act quickly” hiring a replacement for Lyons.    

The Case for West Virginia’s Next Director of Athletics

Morgantown, West Virginia - What we've learned very clearly over the past several seasons of West Virginia sports is that Shane Lyons ain't it.  Lyons, who has been the director of athletics at West Virginia University since 2015, has made decisions that have put the athletic department in quite a bind. Lyons' contract extension last season for head football coach Neal Brown was questionable at best. With four years left on the contract at the time, Lyons locked Brown in for six seasons through 2026 and gave him a raise, pushing his yearly salary to an average of $3,975,000 per season. This after Brown was 11-11 overall as the head coach of the Mountaineers and coming off a 6-4 record and a bowl victory in the Liberty Bowl over Army. "Coach Brown and I are committed to the future success of our football program," Lyons said in a statement released after the contract extension. "I am pleased with the upward trajectory of the program and its culture. Our student-athletes have excelled on the field and in the classroom, and the overall leadership of Mountaineer football is strong." Lyons later gave a much more thorough explanation of why he decided to extend Brown: "You know, things don’t change overnight and I believe in Neal Brown and in his vision.  I know what this football program can be.  And I looked at it and felt like last Spring our football program was in good hands.  I knew we were still young coming into this football season, but felt like Neal’s name had been brought up a couple of different times about other possibilities. What I was trying to do was lock down Neal in case we had a better season than we did (this year). 6-6, I get it, people talk about the mediocrity, but we’re a couple of games also from being 8-4, 9-3, etc. If you look at the number of job openings this year, Neal Brown would have been a guy that would have easily been picked off from other schools.  So I had to take his buyout to a higher amount but by doing that, I had to change the contract. If that happened, the fanbase would be asking just the opposite.  Why did you let this happen?  If he had 9 wins and his name was mentioned a lot, people would’ve said ‘Why didn’t Shane Lyons do this earlier?’ I look at it just I like I do with everything in business. I believe his stock is going to continue to rise and I believe in what we’re doing as a whole. A lot of people just see what happens on Saturdays on the field, I get to see what happens seven days a week.  Yes, it’s result-oriented and I’m not getting away from that, but it’s also a lot of other things that go into that. Every time you make a coaching change, you’re setting yourself back at least another 3 years.  So I’m looking at it as Neal is in year three of contract and I expect to really see the results in the next couple of years." However, we're still awaiting the results. At 3-3 and a very challenging Big 12 Conference schedule looming, West Virginia will be lucky to finish the season with a .500 record at this point. While the expectations have not been met in his 4th season, firing Neal Brown will be difficult because of the massive contract buyout that Lyons gave Brown last season. The university will owe Brown an enormous sum of money if he's fired and although that's certainly something the university could do, it's far from ideal. In other words, Lyons' poor decision-making has really put the university in a very difficult situation and he should be held accountable for his actions. The only way to truly hold him accountable is by firing him. He's potentially cost the university millions and millions of dollars from lost revenue from poor attendance and lack of merchandise sales due to poor on-the-field performance, and if/when West Virginia ultimately fires Neal Brown, that will cost the university even more. Finding a replacement for Lyons would be difficult. He is widely respected around the country and holds the prestigious title of Chairman of the Division I Football Oversight Committee. Only one person could truly fill the void left if Lyons is fired as the director of athletics at West Virginia University. Bob Huggins. Huggins, 69, is aging and despite his continued passion for the game of basketball, the demands of travel will likely soon become too difficult for him. No one cares more about the success of West Virginia athletics than Huggins and like Lyons, he is respected around the country. In addition, Huggins could naturally slide into his new role as director of athletics after retiring and choose his successor as the next head coach of the men's basketball team. This new role would allow him to continue to be a very active part of West Virginia athletics without the demand of traveling and the stresses of being the head coach of a major college basketball program. If there's anyone that can be trusted to make decisions that would truly benefit West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia, it's Bob Huggins.

Dan Dakich is Under Investigation

West Virginia's favorite color analyst for ESPN (sarcasm intended), Dan Dakich, has found himself in hot water. And to nobody's surprise, it is because of the one thing he loves more than anything in this world - tweeting.   According to multiple reports, ESPN is taking comments made by Dakich "very seriously" and "are in the process of looking into it." Over the weekend, the always mouthy former head coach who posted a .500 record at Bowling Green got into a spat with a professor on Twitter, and allegedly used comments that were seen as "misogynistic."   Dakich deactivated his Twitter account in the early afternoon on Sunday. He has since returned to the social media site.

Decision Has Been Made on Eligibility of Winter Sport Athletes According to Brett McMurphy of Stadium, the NCAA has officially granted winter sport athletes an additional year of eligibility. The same was recently done for fall sport athletes after their year had been so greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This additional year of eligibility most notably includes the Mountaineers Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams.  

BREAKING: No Fans to Be in Attendance for Tournament Games in Ohio

As reported by CBSSports, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine stated that he would be issuing a ban to any possibility of fan attendance at NCAA Tournament games in Ohio. This announcement comes on the heels of the Golden State Warriors’ announcement that they would not be allowing fans to home games until further notice. CBS and SB Bracketology have WVU listed as playing in Cleveland during the first rounds of the tournament. Stay tuned to The Voice of West Virginia for updates.

Meet the New Mountaineer

During the WVU-Baylor matchup on Saturday evening, a new mascot for the 2020-21 athletic season was announced in front of a sold out crowd. Timmy Eads, the 66th Mountaineer, handed the musket over to Greenbrier County native, and WVU sophomore, Colson Glover. Glover will be the university’s 67th mascot and will begin serving at the annual Gold-Blue Spring Football Game.

Clark Johnson’s Plan for Big 12 Expansion

*Disclosure: I will be looking at this primarily from a football perspective.* As Brad Smith previously gave his plan for expansion in the Big 12, I also have a vision for the conference moving forward. Since it is unlikely that many other Power 5 schools would consider making the jump to the wild-wild Midwest, this list will strictly consist of proven Group of 5 programs. Here are 3 programs that could potentially be strong additions to the Big 12 Conference:   NAVY: The triple-option in the Big 12? Could it work? Whether it would or would not is a mystery, but it would certainly be fun to watch. Navy has been a strong football program under Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo. The Midshipmen have won 8 or more games in 9 of his 12 seasons at the Naval Academy. Many defensive coordinators in the Big 12 would not appreciate this addition, but it would be compelling to see how they would hold up against the high-flying air raid offenses. UCF: A program that has became increasingly arrogant over the course of the last three seasons, it may be time for them to finally prove themselves against legitimate competition. The Central Florida Football program has been on a tear since 2017, compiling a 35-4 record over that span. Josh Heupel is annually a highly sought after head coaching candidate for Power 5 programs, he would only add to the list of impressive young Big 12 coaches. HOUSTON: Do not act like you did not see this coming. No, this is not a Dana Holgorsen based choice despite the interesting rivalry that could be there with the Cougars and West Virginia. Houston is a legitimate football program that is only continuing to grow. The Cougars have a talented roster, and could compete with the best of the Big 12 after Holgorsen lays his foundation.

Could Coronavirus Affect March Madness?

With the recent worldwide panic of the Coronavirus, the NCAA is considering all options they have to keep everyone safe during March Madness. According to USA Today, the National Collegiate Players Association has pleaded with the NCAA in an attempt to keep fans from attending the March Madness tournament. The NCAA tournament brings individuals from all around the world together, and could potentially result in the spreading of the virus. The NACP is urging the NCAA to act and act immediately. Stay tuned to The Voice of West Virginia for updates.  

The 2021 Mountaineers will be the Most Talented West Virginia Team Ever

The West Virginia Mountaineers, 13-2, are off to a sensational start to the season and could absolutely compete for a Big 12 Conference Championship and perhaps a National Championship this season.  After a miserable 15-21 season last year, it is an incredible time to be a West Virginia fan and this season and team should be appreciated. However, looking ahead, the 2020-2021 West Virginia Mountaineers will almost certainly be the best, most talented team in the program's history.  This of course depends on everything going right and everyone coming back, but the team could potentially be a National Championship favorite next season. Oscar Tshiebwe, the fabulous Freshman Forward, is absolutely athletically gifted enough to declare for the NBA Draft right now, but he is still very raw and would benefit from another season in Morgantown.  Bob Huggins will have the unfortunate story of Sagaba Konate to use as an excellent example of what happens if a player leaves prematurely.  I suspect that Tshiebwe will be back for one more season and then declare for the NBA following a remarkable Sophomore year. Derek Culver, although again very talented, is unlikely to be ready for the NBA after this season.  He's perhaps even more raw than Tshiebwe and leaving West Virginia early would be a tremendously poor decision for him to make.  To truly gain the attention of NBA scouts, Culver must improve his post play, develop his mid-range game and learn to play more under control. The players that the Mountaineers will likely lose next year are Seniors Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt.  Haley is a big, consistent, talented guard and is a pretty massive loss for the team.  Harler has become a reliable shooter and aggressive defender off the bench and Routt is a big body who adds depth on the interior. With that said, there are players on the team currently who will step up to replace the departing Seniors (Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman will play a bigger role) and several incoming players who will make the team even deeper and probably better. Jalen Bridges, who redshirted this season, has benefited from a year of practicing and working out with the team.  A 4 star in-state recruit out of Fairmont, Bridges has the size and skill to get minutes off the bench and contribute immediately.  I erroneously said that West Virginia "didn't need Bridges" over six months ago, but he's clearly going to be an outstanding player for the Mountaineers. Isaiah Cottrell, a 6'10 four star forward, has been absolutely terrific for the juggernaut Huntington Prep team this year.  Although Duke commit Jaemyn Brakefield gets more attention, Cottrell has been the most consistent player on the team and his length and skill will be invaluable for the Mountaineers as a Freshman next season. Taj Thweatt, a three star 6'7 forward out of New Jersey, and Kedrian Johnson, a 6'4 guard who has been mentioned as one of the best JUCO players in the country this season, will be immediate big-time contributors off the bench as well. This year's team is very, very good, but next season's team will be extremely athletic, very deep and without a doubt the most talented team in West Virginia basketball history.  Imagine Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Jr., Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe with another year of experience!  Depending on how the team finishes this season, expect them to be a Preseason Top 5 team and a favorite to win the National Championship next year.

Huggins to the Hall of Fame is a No-Brainer

One of the truly shameful injustices in all of college basketball is Bob Huggins’ absence in the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Each WVU game, announcers wonder aloud, “How can Bob Huggins not be a Hall of Famer?” After all, he has 800 career wins, has led two different schools to the Final Four, and has won 70% of his games over the course of his illustrious 36 year career. Huggins is the 7th all time winningest coach in Division I college basketball history and has the 4th most wins of active coaches, behind only Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, and Roy Williams. He will pass Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith on the all time list this year. Huggins is once again on the list of eligible candidates for the 2020 season and this year's class is perhaps one of the most spectacular ever.  There are several high-profile first-time nominees including Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Shawn Marion, Michael Finley, in addition to many other previously nominated greats, including George Karl, Mark Jackson, Diggers Phelps and, of course, Bob Huggins. According to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame website, "A press conference announcing the Finalists from the North American and Women’s committee for the Class of 2020 will be held during NBA All-Star Weekend, which is scheduled for Friday, February 14th in Chicago, Illinois. The entire Class of 2020, including those selected by the direct elect committees, will be unveiled during the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia in early April." The complete list of male North American nominees includes: Rick Adelman (COA), Fletcher Arritt (COA)*, Johnny Bach (COA), Chauncey Billups (PLA), Chris Bosh (PLA)*, Kobe Bryant (PLA)*, Rick Byrd (COA), Muggsy Bogues (PLA), Irv Brown (REF), Jim Burch (REF), Marcus Camby (PLA), Tim Duncan (PLA)*, Mark Eaton (PLA), Dale Ellis (PLA), Hugh Evans (REF), Michael Finley (PLA)*, Steve Fisher (COA), Cotton Fitzsimmons (COA), Kevin Garnett (PLA)*, Richard Hamilton (PLAY), Tim Hardaway (PLA), Ed Hightower (REF), Bob Huggins (COA), Mark Jackson (PLA), Herman Johnson (COA)*, Marques Johnson (PLA), George Karl (COA), Gene Keady (COA), Ken Kern (COA) Shawn Marion (PLA)*, Rollie Massimino (COA), Bob McKillop (COA)*, Danny Miles (COA), Steve Moore (COA)*m Dick Motta (COA), Jake O’Donnell (REF), Digger Phelps (COA), Lamont Robinson (PLA), Bo Ryan (COA), Bob Saulsbury (COA), Norm Sloan (COA)*, Eddie Sutton (COA), Rudy Tomjanovich (COA), Ben Wallace (PLA), Chris Webber (PLA), Willie West (COA), Buck Williams (PLA)*, and Jay Wright (COA). Although this is a long and illustrious list of great former players and coaches, there are few more deserving than Bob Huggins.  Enough is enough, the West Virginia Head Coach should finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame class of 2020 and given the respect that he's earned during an absolutely incredible career.