Late-season collapse gets worse

West Virginia’s season didn’t end in Austin, Texas, on Monday night.

But it sure feels like it.

The Mountaineers 67-57 loss at Texas (16-11, 7-8 Big 12) on Monday night was their seventh Big 12 road loss in eight tries. It was WVU’s (19-9, 7-8) fifth loss in its last six games.

What was a late-season struggle is turning into an epic collapse.

All the usual suspects were on full display on Monday night. Poor shooting from the field (22-for-50, 44 percent). Terrible shooting from the free-throw line (10-for-21, 47.6 percent). Abysmal shooting from beyond the 3-point line (3-for-11, 27.3 percent). Mountaineers not named Sean McNeil were 0-for-8 from outside the arc Monday night.

It wasn’t just the offense that let down WVU on Monday night. Through the first half to two-thirds of the season, the Mountaineers were one of the best defensive teams in the country. They were one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

They did neither well on Monday night.

Texas shot a ridiculous 22-for-42 (52.4 percent) from the field and 9-for-22 (40.9 percent) from 3-point range. Texas came into the game hitting 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the 3-point line. The Longhorns were hot Monday night. But a lackluster West Virginia defensive effort played a significant role.

The Mountaineers also didn’t rebound with their usual ferocity in Austin. The teams finished even with 29 boards apiece. For a team as offensively challenged as the Mountaineers, that can’t happen.

If you want to look at individual bright spots, there’s McNeil’s 13 points and three 3-pointers which helped keep the team in the game. Oscar Tshiebwe scored a team-high 14 points and Derek Culver had 12. Culver’s night would have been better if he hadn’t shot 2-for-8 from the foul line.

None of that seems the least bit important now. Those numbers are but a few trees amongst a freefalling season’s forest.

Texas is playing better. The win over WVU was the Longhorns third straight in an effort to resurrect a season that appeared to be headed towards complete disaster and coach Shaka Smart’s firing.

But the previous two wins were over Big 12 bottom-half teams TCU and Iowa State. Monday night’s win over West Virginia was the Longhorns first against a team projected to make the NCAA Tournament.

But will the Mountaineers actually make that tournament? What not long ago was a ridiculous proposition is becoming, if not likely, at least a consideration. A little more than three weeks ago, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had the Mountaineers as a No. 2 seed in its early reveal release.

The team that earned such high acclaim and the one on display in Austin on Monday night seem like two completely different squads who happen to wear the same uniform.

In little more than a month’s time, West Virginia has gone from a 38-point victory over Texas to a 10-point loss. That’s a 48-point swing. Forty-eight points. In 33 days.

To say that it’s imperative that WVU coach Bob Huggins get this corrected immediately is the ultimate “Captain Obvious.” The truth is, if Huggins had a solution, he would have implemented it weeks ago. He’s tried shuffling lineups and combinations.

It’s all amounted to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

During the ESPN broadcast of the game, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the network’s tournament bracketologist, said WVU drops a half a seed with each loss. Lunardi had West Virginia as a five seed before the Texas game.

The Mountaineers have three regular-season games left: At home against Oklahoma on Saturday, at Iowa State March 3 and home against No. 2 Baylor March 7. After what we’ve seen the past three weeks, would anyone be shocked if they lost all three?

Using Lunardi’s math, even that level of collapse shouldn’t keep the Mountaineers out.

But maybe it should.