MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — Watching West Virginia squeak out a victory over the Missouri State Bears last night was a bit distressing and it painted a picture of what can be expected from the 2023-2024 Mountaineers’ basketball program.
I love this team and I especially love the coaching staff. Josh Eilert has put together one of the easiest-to-love staffs ever at West Virginia. One of the greatest players in the history of West Virginia basketball, Da’Sean Butler, Jordan McCabe, a former WVU point guard who has a huge future in coaching, Alex Ruoff, one of the all-time nice guys ever in the program, Der’Marr Johnson, a former Bob Huggins’ player who has been exceptional in his first two seasons with the team, and senior advisor James Dickey, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the program, make up a coaching staff that is just so easy to get behind and cheer for.
But the reality is that this is going to be a really, really challenging season for the West Virginia Mountaineers. After Bob Huggins’ embarrassing DUI arrest and forced resignation, everything fell apart. Tre Mitchell, James Okonkwo, Mohamed Wague and Joe Toussaint all left the program. Omar Silverio was deemed ineligble to play this season by the NCAA. Jose Perez was kicked off the team and then transferred to Arizona State. RaeQuan Battle was ruled ineligible to play this season by the NCAA. Akok Akok had a medical emergency on the floor during a charity exhibition game and his career could very well be over. Kerr Kriisa was suspended for 9 games for reportedly selling his season tickets while at Arizona.
Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. What was once a team built to realstically compete for an NCAA National Championship is now sadly a shell of its former self. Last night’s game against Missouri State was a cruel reminder of how much West Virginia lost during the offseason and how little it is left with. Eilert will likely be forced to play a 7 or 8 man rotation. If a player is injured – and let’s face it, players get injured and this will happen sometime during the season – the Mountaineers are in a world of trouble. You just can’t compete in the Big 12 Conference with 6 or 7 players; it’s challenging to compete with a solid ten man rotation in the nation’s top conference!
So, whether it’s fair or not, West Virginia will likely have a very rough season and Josh Eilert will be judged on it. When Josh Eilert was hired as the interim head coach, WVU director of athletics Wren Baker made it clear that he intended to have a national search for Huggins’ permanent replacement following the 2023-2024 seaosn. Obviously if the Mountaineers were successful this season and showed real promise, Baker would have to give Eilert real consideration as the team’s permanent head coach, but the reality is that that’s just not going to happen this season. The likliehood of West Virginia making noise in the Big 12 with 7 or 8 players seems slim at best. Making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament appears even less likely.
It’s impossible to make a fair, unbiased critique of Josh Eilert and his coaching staff based on the atrocious hand they were dealt this season. Eilert has made it clear that he will not make excuses and will not alllow his players to do so either, but ultimately there are an awful lot of reasons for him to be deeply troubled by the situation that he’s been put in. With all of this considered, I believe Eilert and his entire coaching staff should be given anotehr year; another year to recruit, to mold this roster and be given a real chance to show whether he is the right man for the job. That’s the only fair, reasonable thing to do.
Regardless of how West Virginia basketball does this season, Josh Eilert and his staff deserve another year. This team is just not a true or fair representation of how well the staff can really perform.
Even if they go 0-31, West Virginia should bring the whole staff back. #WVU
— The Voice of Morgantown (@voicemorgantown) November 2, 2023