Bryant, Jones legacies have yet to be determined
MORGANTOWN - You'd be doing Truck Bryant a disservice to remember his career for one bad game or series of games or even for underperforming as a senior when, in reality, his numbers are about what they've always been throughout his career.
In some cases, he's been better.
Nor would it be fair to think any less of what Kevin Jones has done in his final season and the way he changed how people in the NBA view him, just because his numbers have dipped as his West Virginia team reached the end of the regular season.
Yet, reality can be a cruel beast and what happens these next two or three games for the Mountaineers - a critical stretch that has to be shaped by the team's only two seniors - goes a long way to cementing how time and how fans will remember Bryant and Jones.
"I feel like there's unfinished business to be done," Jones said.
"You definitely don't want to go out and lose on your Senior Night.
"You want to go to the NCAA Tournament in your last year in college. There's definitely a lot of stuff to be done. I hope we get that done and I believe we can get that done."
Only three Mountaineers have played in the NCAA Tournament all four years, and Bryant and Jones were teammates for three of the four times Jonnie West, Cam Thoroughman and John Flowers went dancing.
Bryant and Jones can join the club, but they have to do what recent events have convinced many they cannot do. They have to win the final two games of the season.
That begins tonight with the 7 p.m. home game against lowly DePaul, which hasn't beaten WVU since 1945 and is 0-6 since joining the Big East. The Blue Demons (11-17, 2-14 Big East) have lost eight straight games and are 1-7 on the road in conference play.
The Mountaineers (17-12, 7-9), who despite their record and recent rut are actually in a favorable position for an at-large bid to a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, just can't lose this game.
Coach Bob Huggins said Monday his fifth WVU team would be safe at 9-9 in conference play. He knows no Big East team has made an at-large appearance with a conference record below .500 since 1994.
Oh, sure, the Mountaineers could lose and still make noise in the Big East Tournament. They could win it, but they'd need five wins in five days. WVU has one five-game winning streak this season. It was spread across 14 days and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Tennessee Tech aren't invited to Madison Square Garden.
WVU could make a deep run, but the Mountaineers are 2-7 in their last nine games and haven't won back-to-back games since beating Rutgers, Marshall and Cincinnati in the middle of January.
This is beginning of the end for the Mountaineers, though, when it ends is up to them.
For Jones and for Bryant, forget Senior Night. This is about the senior season. They must lead WVU to wins against DePaul and then Saturday at South Florida (18-11, 11-5), which is 14-1 at home and ahead of WVU in the RPI.
WVU's RPI will drop with tonight's game, regardless of the outcome, from 50 to 50-something. USF visit Louisville on Wednesday, but the RPI will rise, regardless of the outcome, from 47 to 40-something.
The feeling around the WVU Coliseum is an unusual one, as uncertain as it's been in February since 2007, when the Mountaineers ended up winning the NIT. These Mountaineers don't like the sound of that, much like they didn't like the sound of Sunday's practice.
"It was weird," Bryant said. "Coach usually spends the whole time yelling at us. (Sunday) he was cool, calm and collected.
"He's going through some things himself and it's rough. Losing is rough on everyone."
The Mountaineers aren't used to it. They have their most regular-season losses since 2003 and they know it could, and probably should, be a different story.
WVU had Baylor beat and let the Bears escape. The Mountaineers were up 10 points in the second half on the road against Connecticut and lost. WVU lost by two at Syracuse after a controversial call and lost home games to Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville and Marquette by a combined 14 points.
It's easy to remember that now, but years from now those are seven losses that could have cost them dearly.
Jones will forever be an all-time great, a self-made star who scored and rebounded on a level rivaled only by Jerry West and Warren Baker before him, who ought to be the school's first Big East Player of the Year.
Bryant won't have the same accolades, but he's been a valuable player, from contributor to star, and his name is found in all kinds of categories for career statistics.
Yet, you remember winners and the NCAA Tournament runs and if you have any doubts about what this means to those two players, you should see Bryant's omnipresent smile vanish when he talks about the 2010 Final Four team - the one he cheered on injured from the end of the bench. He'd give anything to leave a different impression. He has that chance.
"It's never over," he said. "We've got two games left just in the regular season. We're not even talking the rest of the year. It's just the regular season. There's a lot left. A great story could still be written here. You never know what could happen."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blog.dailymail.com/wvu.