A Poorly-Timed Flop

At a time when teams hoping to compete for postseason glory typically start to peak, West Virginia instead put its many critical flaws on display in a blowout 71-44 loss at No. 20 Notre Dame.

Defense? The concept that is typically at the heart of Bob Huggins' teams was nowhere to be found at the Joyce Center.

The Fighting Irish shot 64.1 percent from the field in the first 36:14 and 61.4 percent overall. It was a performances rarely seen from any WVU opponent: no opponent had shot so well against the Mountaineers in Huggins' five seasons.

The last time a West Virginia foe fared better? A 2003 loss to Pittsburgh, when the Panthers shot 63.3 percent.

But this wasn't just a bit of Irish luck. So many of the shots were wide open that it would have been tough for Notre Dame's talented shooters to miss.

"I've never had a team give up 60 percent shooting in two halves in 30 years," Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network on his postgame radio appearance. "Never in 30 years. And I've had some bad teams when I first got to places."

Offense? Again, it was stagnant at best and ugly at worst. The Mountaineers showed no signs of an answer for the zone defenses opponents are likely to turn to early and often come postseason play.

West Virginia was only 1-of-10 from 3-point range, just one game after making 2-of-11 from beyond the arc in a win at Pittsburgh. Given that 13.6 percent accuracy rate over the course of two games, Irish defenders were wisely apt to sag deep in their 2-3 zone.

WVU's 44 points were the program's fewest since a 2008 loss to Kentucky and tied for the fourth-worst offensive output by the Mountaineers since 1951.

"They just packed it in, knowing we're not going to make a shot," Huggins said. "And we didn't make any. We didn't get anything in transition, and they did. When you're constantly playing with positive numbers, it bodes well for you. They played with positive numbers all night, and we didn't."

Add it all up and you get the program's most lopsided loss since 2005, when what ultimately proved to be John Beilein's most successful Mountaineer squad surrendered in an 84-46 decision at Villanova.

That's the insult. The injury is that it comes at the worst possible time, when West Virginia's confidence was surely already flagging.

As staggering as it is to believe, WVU has lost six of its last eight games and is floundering in the worst possible way with only three games left in the regular season.

At 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big East, it has three regular season games left and needs to win two of them to avoid finishing under .500 in league play. No team has earned an NCAA Tournament at-large berth in a season it finished under .500 in regular season Big East play since Seton Hall in 1994.

West Virginia has some factors in its favor -- namely, a strong RPI rating, a lofty strength of schedule number and a weak NCAA bubble -- but truly didn't look like a team worthy of an invitation to the Big Dance on Wednesday.

"This game is so much a mindset," Huggins lamented. "When your mind is not right, it's hard. It's kinda like people who play golf: it's hard to get it turned when it starts going south."

Cruelest of all, the Mountaineers have only a day to prepare before the No. 10 team in the country, Marquette, comes to the Coliseum. Will the tailspin continue? Or can WVU turn things around before it's too late?


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