Heading into Saturday's regular season finale with the Seton Hall Pirates, the Mountaineers are playing with more confidence than they have at any point in the season. Sure, you could make an argument that during their 10-0 start their confidence was sky high, but they weren't playing their Big East Conference schedule yet. Wins at LSU and N.C. State were impressive, but everyone knew that the conference slate was still standing in the way.
"It seems like we played really well in the start, then the middle was rough, and now the end has been great," said junior forward Mike Gansey.
Senior Tyrone Sally has certainly played a large role in the turnaround. As one of the leaders of the team, Sally has noticed the confidence level steadily increasing as the season heads down the home stretch.
"I'd say this is the highest we've been all season, including when we were 10-0," observed the quiet Sally.
When the Mountaineers got off to that hot start, everyone's confidence was sky high. Suddenly expectations went from maybe making the NCAA tournament, to not only making the Big Dance, but also staying around for quite a while.
After the first game of the conference season though – a 38-point loss at Villanova – everything seemed to spiral quickly out of control. The team that had looked so confident at N.C. State on January 2 suddenly looked unsure of itself against a bad Marshall team just nine days later. Not helping things was the fact that teams like Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse were all coming up on the schedule.
It was during the Pitt game on February 5 that things started to turn around. The Mountaineers fought off a rough first half to go on to an overtime victory. From that night on, this season has felt different. Even when half the team was fighting off the flu in the Georgetown game, they played with confidence. Sure, they didn't win the game, but you'll have that when your whole team gets hit with illness.
Perhaps no player better represents the turnaround than Kevin Pittsnogle. At one point in the season, Kevin had disappeared to the bench. After scoring a career high 27 points in that Pitt game though, KP has been a man possessed when he steps onto the court. He's confident putting up shots from the outside, or going to his baby when he has the ball in the post.
"There's no better time to play with the confidence I'm playing with," says the Martinsburg native. "I'm playing well and I'm having fun."
Point guard J.D. Collins, who saved the Mountaineer bubble with his game-winning runner against St. John's, says that for this team to win, they have to play confident.
"Confidence is the name of the game man," says the gritty Texan. "If you don't have confidence, then you probably aren't going to play very well. We've been playing hard, and it's paid off for us.
So as the Mountaineers wrap up the regular season and head into postseason play, everybody's running their different scenarios of where the season will end. Some of the half-empty crowd think that the Mountaineers will have to win Saturday's game, and at least two games in New York to go dancing. Those in the half-full crowd, myself included, think that a win Saturday should seal the dance invite for the Blue and Gold. In reality, it's probably a win Saturday and a win in the tournament that will do the trick. We won't know for sure for another week and a half when the tournament selections are unveiled.
Count Sally in as one of those who says that no matter where they're playing, the Mountaineers are going to play with the swagger we've seen in the past few weeks.
"We've had some good wins against some good teams and everybody's playing with a high level of confidence. If everybody keeps playing the way we've been playing, then great things are going to happen," said a confident Tyrone.
Wherever they end up, the Mountaineers are going to keep playing well, riding the wave of momentum that's been getting bigger and bigger since the Pitt win nearly a month ago. And at the end of the day, we'll look back on this Mountaineer season and be satisfied with the effort and results. Of that, I'm confident.