MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The first 10 games of West Virginia's basketball season have been a monumental struggle for the Mountaineers. For every step forward it seems there are two steps back.
Write off that opening-game 34-point loss to Gonzaga. That's what West Virginia did, taking 10 days off to regroup and recover and essentially start over again.
But then a rout of Marist in the first game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., was followed by a mystifying defeat at the hands of Davidson and a loss to Oklahoma.
Three games within the state provided some relief in the form of three wins, including Marshall and handing Virginia Tech its first loss. But then came that meltdown at Duquesne - losing a 15-point second-half lead - and briefly competitive loss to No. 3 Michigan in Brooklyn.
"It's been a struggle, honestly,'' sophomore point guard Juwan Staten said. "I thought we had it going after the Virginia Tech game, but we just couldn't keep it up.''
The hope now is that the Mountaineers can build at least a little bit of momentum and confidence with three home games before the start of Big 12 play. The first step was Wednesday night's 76-71 win over Oakland. That wasn't much of a confidence builder given that West Virginia struggled mightily against a team that is now 4-8, but at this point beggars can't be choosers. It was a win.
Up next is today's 4 p.m. game against Radford at the Coliseum. The Highlanders are 5-6 and lost their third straight at Charlotte Wednesday night, 68-52. The Mountaineers are then off for a short holiday break before hosting Eastern Kentucky a week from Sunday. League play begins the following Saturday at home against Oklahoma.
While the question of whether West Virginia can string together some wins in what qualifies as the soft spot in its schedule is in some ways secondary to another issue: Who do the Mountaineers rely upon to get that done? By this point in the season, coach Bob Huggins has generally pared his rotation down to nine or 10 players. Not so now.
Nine of WVU's 13 scholarship players have started a game this season and all 13 seem likely to be called upon at any time. Save for Aaric Murray's one-game suspension against Michigan, Huggins has used 11 and 12 players the last two games. And the one who has played the least in those two games, Aaron Brown, started as recently as the Virginia Tech game.
"We probably have too many guys that are all about the same,'' Huggins said. "The prudent thing to do is play the ones who are playing the best that day.''