The Mountaineers (6-4) have just three non-conference games left: vs. Marshall in Charleston; home against Purdue; and against William & Mary in Charleston. What follows is another arduous journey through the Big 12, a 16-game conference schedule that features eight games against teams that are currently in the national polls. WVU has lost 16 of 17 games against top 25 opponents.
After Tuesday's game at the Coliseum - in which WVU led by 10 points, 51-41, with 16:08 left - my mind drifted back to the bowels of the McCarthy Athletic Center on Gonzaga's campus thirteen months ago. The smaller-than-usual media contingent that made the cross-country trek for the game waited patiently as Huggins counseled his team, for a prolonged period, behind closed locker room doors.
Once the crestfallen group emerged, they said the team's offense was "broken" and "out of sync." Huggins said his team shot the basketball "terrible."
There is a stark contrast between then and now, although it hasn't yet shown up in the standings.
Coaches don't have to wrap their arms around moral victories to see that, occasionally, a loss can boost morale and that frustration can be a welcome substitute for deflation. The cusp is a necessary step, not one that is easy to hurdle en route to NCAA tournaments, 20-win seasons and regular wins over ranked opposition.
WVU is last in the Big 12 in winning percentage, but so far nothing has let the air of out the Mountaineers' season. Huggins, in his 32nd season, is conveying a different message with a group that lost its third consecutive game to Gonzaga, but made a 30-point turnaround from one year to the next.
"I think it is pretty evident they don't quit," Huggins said of his team. "We're close. We're so close. We're so close to being pretty good, but at the same time we're so far away.
"I think we can beat everybody that we've played. I think given another chance at the end of the year, we can beat everybody that we've played to this point because we're going to continue to get better and better and better."
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at chuck.mcg...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill.