TAMPA, Fla. - West Virginia didn't defend its 2010 Big East Tournament championship very long. It didn't return to the NCAA Final Four for a second straight season, or even get out of the first weekend, for that matter.
After Saturday's season-ending the loss to Kentucky in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, once the heads were lifted from hands and the tears were cleared away, it was clear to see the Mountaineers didn't do the things many expected them to do.
And that's quite an achievement.
"A lot of people didn't pick us to be where we are midway through the season," WVU forward Cam Thoroughman said. "When there was all that doom and gloom, we could have packed it in and went home, but we didn't. We battled through it and it made us all better basketball players and better people.
"I'm really proud of everybody. Nobody went crazy. We all just stuck together and got through it together. I don't want to say it's an
accomplishment to make it this far because we're going home, but I am glad we got this far."
The Mountaineers made a fourth straight NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1955-60. They got there this season after losing Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith to graduation and Devin Ebanks to the NBA and, in reality, adding no one.
Of the freshman recruiting class, three of the four players never put on a uniform for WVU. Only Kevin Noreen remains, and he took a medical redshirt after knee surgery early in the season. The returning players were either forced fits or guys who had issues throughout the season, including Dan Jennings, who literally walked away from the team during a game in January.
At the end of Saturday's game, Jonnie West was thrown in to make a 3-pointer. West wasn't even with the team when it started practice in the fall.
Thoroughman was, in essence, the team's center. He was recruited as a guard.
Casey Mitchell was suspended in the preseason and then in the middle of the season. Despite an extraordinary start to the season, he became an ordinary reserve the final half of the season.
John Flowers evolved into a surprisingly reliable shooter and scorer and was the team's best defender, but throughout the season he couldn't stay out of foul trouble.
Kevin Jones had about the same stats this season as he had last season, except he didn't shoot the ball nearly as well and missed the presence of Butler, Smith and Ebanks as much as anyone else.
Dalton Pepper and Deniz Kilicli had their moments, but not often in close proximity. Pepper had only four double-digit scoring games. Two were the first two games of the season.
Kilicli had a few good games but asked to be moved out of the starting lineup in the middle of the season and couldn't be a consistent option in the post the Mountaineers needed.
Truck Bryant went through a lengthy shooting slump, but finished the season better than he played most of it. Joe Mazzulla willed himself to become a scoring threat, but was more comfortable as a defender and facilitator.