KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Inside the Sprint Center Wednesday night, with a smattering of gold-clad fans who could watch in person what many other West Virginia fans strained to watch from home or from a bar, came a reality that had been hovering above for a while.
The season had ended with a seventh straight loss, this one 71-69 just before the buzzer against Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Conference tournament. The Mountaineers were 13-19 overall, their worst season since 2002 and first without a player averaging double figures since 1944.
As disappointments go, this wasn't much different than the football team that started 5-0 before losing five in a row and finishing 7-6 with a far more embarrassing season-ending loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. But while those Mountaineers were against a traditional enemy in an area that had been so good to the athletic department through the years, these Mountaineers were far from home.
Far from metropolitan New York, far from Madison Square Garden, which three years earlier had played a John Denver song while WVU cut down the nets for winning the Big East tournament title. Where WVU could own the back pages of New York's tabloids, the local paper here Thursday referred to the University of West Virginia and UWV.
The fans who hadn't really made the trips to Kansas and Texas and Iowa like they used to travel to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and even South Florida were again largely absent. So, too, was the anticipation, the electricity, the intensity, the severity of postseasons past WVU used to know.
It was all so clear, never as impossible to ignore as it was after the early exit from the conference championship: This Big 12 thing wasn't nearly as cool as it was supposed to be. The Mountaineers were the outsiders, not the outliers. They were the norms, not the exceptions. They were susceptible to the transitional elements we all ought to have realized were so powerful.
And the worst part is that the football and the men's basketball teams might be a year away from getting it right. It might be longer.
The money is great. The finances make sense. There will come greater rewards from greater riches. But there remains a lot left to reconcile with regard to rivalries and geography and travel and personnel. Bob Huggins said again that he messed up his roster after his sixth WVU season left him with just his third losing record in 28 years as a Division I head coach.
With the exception of Matt Humphrey, a senior who transferred to WVU over the summer, and who was never really his healthy self this season, and Volodymyr Gerun, who signed after Humphrey arrived, the Mountaineers who played this season were all committed to this season before WVU left the Big East for the Big 12.
The Big 12 is a much more mobile, offensive league than the Big East. Huggins has to change the roster, and he will.
There were three seniors who played their last college games Wednesday night. Trust there were others who saw their last day in a WVU uniform. Who? Easy to speculate, hard to say for certain, but that leads to another topic for reconciliation.
What in the world does Huggins do with Aaric Murray, the talented, though conflicted junior center who was at his best and worst in what was either his final game of the season or in college?
He had 11 points and eight rebounds and blocked two shots, all in the second half. He also picked up a technical foul for saying something particularly naughty to official John Higgins, blew a late defensive rotation that allowed a key basket, traveled on WVU's penultimate possession and then was one of three Mountaineers who were in the paint and never blocked out Dejan Kravic, who tipped in the game-winning shot.