What happened?

West Virginia University’s basketball program was cruising along with a 16-3 record and a nice national ranking a little more than two weeks ago.

Since then, the Mountaineers inexplicably have lost three of their last five games and weren’t impressive during the two wins at home over Kansas State and Iowa State.

So, what happened?

What caused this five-game skid that is liable to grow to six when WVU plays top-ranked Baylor at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Ferrell Center at Waco, Texas?

The answer is leadership.

As in lack thereof.

I mean, just who is the Mountaineers’ leader?

The simple truth is WVU doesn’t have one.

That has become glaringly obvious during this lull. And it really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Just look at the Mountaineers’ roster.

There’s a reason WVU averages only 1.2 years of experience. It’s because nearly the entire roster is composed of first- and second-year players. Freshmen and sophomores are very rarely leaders.

Therein lies the problem.

Ten of WVU’s 12 players are competing in either their first or second year in the Mountaineers’ program. So, there isn’t any senior leadership. And, no, that’s not an insult aimed at Chase Harler, Logan Routt and Jermaine Haley.

Routt is a 6-foot-11 former walk-on, who has played in 99 games, but has started only 11 and averages just 7.0 minutes of playing time. Harler is a 6-3 senior, who has appeared in 109 games, but started only 20 and averages just 15.0 minutes.

As for Haley, the 6-7 guard is indeed a senior and is a member of WVU’s starting lineup. Yet, this is only his second year in the Mountaineers’ program after transferring from Odessa Junior College. Haley has played in 59 games with 47 starts and averages 24.3 minutes.

A similar scenario involves 6-7 forward Gage Osabuohien. He’s a junior, but 2019-20 is only his first season in WVU’s program after transferring from Arkansas. Osabuohien has played in 21 games with one start and averages 18.5 minutes.

The rest of the roster includes nothing but first- and second-year players.

Just look at the starting lineup.

Derek Culver is a 6-10 true sophomore, who has started 36 of 50 games for WVU, averaging 25.8 minutes. Oscar Tshiebwe is a 6-9 true freshman, who has started all 24 games and is averaging 23.1 minutes. Emmitt Matthews is a 6-7 true sophomore, who has started 36 of 56 games and averages 18.7 minutes. True sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe has started 39 of 59 games, averaging 13.7 minutes. The other starter is Haley.

Young, young, young.

There’s no experience on the bench, either. Sixth man Miles “Deuce” McBride is a true freshman guard, while junior college transfers Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are both first-year players.

It adds up to an overwhelming lack of leadership.

“They’re nice guys,” said veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins, after the 58-49 loss to Kansas Wednesday night in the WVU Coliseum. “They’re good guys. I don’t know what to say, whether it’s we’re not mature enough, we’re not experienced enough, we aren’t tough enough to grind out games like this.”

All of the above.

But there is a leader on the horizon. It’s McBride. He showed it after the Kansas loss. After the game ended at 8:59 p.m. and as soon as Huggins finished his postgame talk, McBride was back out on the floor shooting.

Until 9:50 p.m.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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