KANSAS CITY, Mo. - There is an argument to be made that questions regarding next season's West Virginia basketball team have been relevant for more than a month now.
After all, that was when, for all practical purposes, it became apparent that this year's Mountaineers were going nowhere.
But regardless of when the discussion could have begun, on Wednesday night West Virginia made it official. That's when the Mountaineers ended what can only be termed a disaster of a season with a seventh consecutive defeat. The last-second, 71-69 loss to Texas Tech in the opening game of the Big 12 tournament put to rest a 13-19 season, the school's worst in more than a decade and easily the worst in Bob Huggins' 31 years as a head coach.
"You don't want it to end, especially like this,'' freshman guard Eron Harris said. "But it's over and now it's time to start thinking about next year.''
Indeed. But what does next year hold?
Well, count on it being different than this season. There's no guarantee the results will be any different - there never is - but it's a pretty sure bet that the cast of characters will change. The Mountaineers have but three seniors who have used up their eligibility, but if those are the only three who aren't around when practice begins in October it will be a major upset.
Certainly at the top of the list of questions is that of junior center Aaric Murray. Largely a disappointment this season and a frequent target of fan derision, Murray was once considered a one-and-done player for the Mountaineers. He was to showcase his talents in one season after transferring from LaSalle and then it was off to the NBA.
Well, that won't happen. Murray averaged less than nine points and six rebounds and started only 11 of 32 games. His NBA stock is not high. He also seemed, at times, disinterested and moody.
But if Murray doesn't return for his final year of eligibility, it won't be because he doesn't want to. At least that's what he said after one of his more well-rounded games of the season in Wednesday's loss - 11 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal. And he did virtually all of that in 16 second-half minutes.
"I definitely want to come back,'' Murray said afterward. "I want to use this offseason to prepare better and a lot harder than I did in past offseasons.
"I want to come back. The only reason why I won't be back is if coach don't let me come back. That's it.''
What Huggins has in mind for Murray isn't quite clear, of course. The 6-foot-11 junior was, at times, as dominating on the floor as he was predicted to be. Those were generally short stretches, however, which is something he will have to address if he does return.