One of the first things was seeing how a team as young as this one, one with as many new pieces being asked to play significant roles, would handle things if they started to have success. It’s always an interesting balance to see if a team is able to continue playing the way it did without allowing that success to go to their heads and cause them to stop playing together.
For the most part, it looked like this was not an issue for West Virginia through the first seven games of the year – and even after Thursday’s loss to LSU, I wouldn’t necessarily say that was the case for this group, even though the Mountaineers did look lackadaisical once they got a big lead. After each early-season win, especially after beating defending national champion Connecticut in Puerto Rico, it looked as if West Virginia was getting better, coming closer as a team and executing the way it had planned to with its relentless defense that barely allowed teams to breathe, let alone string together long stretches of consistent play on the offensive end of the floor.
But Thursday, things changed.
The Mountaineers blew a 14-point lead, the defense struggled to make stops at the end of the game and they weren’t able to make the shots they needed to win the game. And now comes quite possibly the most important question this West Virginia team will have to answer all season – one the last couple of WVU teams were never able to quite figure out the right answer to.
How will this team do when adversity comes its way and it loses a tough game like this.
The postgame atmosphere in this one Thursday night was different than a lot that I’ve experienced in recent years. West Virginia knew the win was theirs for the taking, and when the opportunity came it just didn’t answer.
The important part comes in the next few days – in that time leading up to the Mountaineers’ trip for their lone true road game of the non-conference season, when they travel to Northern Kentucky.
Things have gotten to a crucial point where West Virginia is going to be able to go one of two ways. It can either push through these struggles and bounce back like nothing has changed, or it can let this loss continue to haunt them each time they get a lead and a team starts to fight back.
If this West Virginia team is as close as it appears to be, that shouldn't be an issue. But as we've seen in the past, adversity can be something that wreaks havoc on a team.
Now is the time for this team's leadership to shine and help this Mountaineer team move forward.