Depth Issues Catching Up to WVU Down Stretch

West Virginia came into this season knowing its overall lack of depth could end up becoming a problem once it got into Big 12 Conference play.

Once both Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton were ruled ineligible, the Mountaineers were left with just nine players on scholarship.

If WVU was going to want to be able to win games in the Big 12, it was going to have to do so with arguably the least amount of depth Bob Huggins has had since he's been in Morgantown - and with a roster full of inexperienced players.

But as the season went on, West Virginia was able to fit into their roles. Juwan Staten emerged as the clear leaders, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson became the scorers who were able to do plenty of damage in a variety of different ways. Everyone else played their roles, whether it be to provide energy, hit shots outside or defend in the post and provide a rebounding presence. And things began to click.

Out of nowhere a team that looked like a postseason berth of any kind would be an amazing achievement was suddenly finding its way into the conversation for an at-large bid.

It all came down to the final five games of the season, four of those coming against teams the Mountaineers had already beaten. At least three good results would get West Virginia to 18 regular-season wins and an opportunity to earn itself a spot back in the NCAA tournament - just a matter of weeks after many people had decided that the Mountaineers were a year away from that being a realistic goal.

Now, two games into that five-game span, it does look like - barring a win streak to close out the regular season and a win or two in Kansas City in a few weeks - WVU will have to put those plans of getting to The Big Dance on hold one more season. And part of that, not surprisingly, is due to the Mountaineers' overall lack of depth.

When it was announced that Henderson would not be playing against Baylor due to an illness, it put West Virginia down to just eight players – and looking to fill the void left with the versatile guard out of the lineup.

WVU just hasn't looked quite the same since.

Heading into the final three games, all of which now look like must-wins, the Mountaineers have lost three games in a row. For as quickly as things heated up for them a few weeks ago, they seem to have cooled off just as fast. It's amazing that just one person being out of the lineup can have that much of an effect on a team, but when you have already had a few guys not cleared to play and had to deal with a lot of players leaving the program a year ago, one more person being out and not able to play begins to look like a huge obstacle.

And you've been able to tell that pretty easily by watching West Virginia play over the course of this past week. After Wednesday's loss to Iowa State, Harris admitted that the team might have been in better shape and could have had a better chance to win had Henderson been in the lineup – and he's absolutely right.

Watching the path the Mountaineers are currently on throughout these final few games of the season, you have to wonder what could have been. What would have happened had Henderson stayed healthy and was available for the Baylor and Iowa State games? Could WVU had won a couple more and made its path to March that much easier?

The easy answer is probably, but that isn't the case. Now the Mountaineers have to regroup and figure out a way to end the year on a strong note, trying to ride whatever momentum they can down the stretch.

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