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West Virginia starts search for a new men's basketball coach after 9-23 season

West Virginia opened a search for a new men’s basketball coach Wednesday as it tries to put behind one of the worst seasons in school history.

Interim coach Josh Eilert led the Mountaineers to a 9-23 mark, including a loss to Cincinnati in the Big 12 Tournament on Tuesday. West Virginia set a school record for losses while finishing with its fewest wins since the 2001-02 team went 8-20 in Gale Catlett’s final season.

In a statement, West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker said he informed Eilert, his staff and the team upon their return to Morgantown, West Virginia, that “we are moving forward with our search plans.”

“All of Mountaineer Nation owes a debt of gratitude to Coach Eilert for his leadership during a challenging season, as he and his staff faced all obstacles with class and professionalism," Baker said.

At a news conference later Wednesday, Baker said he would lean toward hiring a candidate with “a demonstrated track record of success in Division I" and hoped to have someone hired by the men’s Final Four in early April.

He’ll have to contend with the attention that candidates will receive for other job openings such as at Louisville, which fired Kenny Payne on Wednesday, and at Washington, which informed Mike Hopkins last week that he won't return after seven seasons. DePaul fired Tony Stubblefield in January and Ohio State parted ways with Chris Holtmann last month.

“We are now focused on our collective future, and I am excited about what comes next,” Baker said. “I am confident we will engage a strong pool of candidates and identify the right leader for our program. As I shared with our student-athletes, we will move deliberately but as swiftly as we can in the days ahead.”

Eilert took over last summer after the resignation of Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins. Huggins left following a drunken driving arrest in June and after using a homophobic slur to refer to Xavier fans while also denigrating Catholics during a radio interview in May.

Eilert, who was given a 10-month contract that paid him $1.5 million, was left with a mess.

Several veteran players transferred under an emergency 30-day window to enter the transfer portal. Some who entered the portal stayed and many newcomers arrived weeks after Huggins left. Once practices started, Eilert kicked graduate transfer guard Jose Perez off the team. Perez said on X, formerly Twitter, that his exit was over an academic disagreement involving study hall. Eilert said he set some non-negotiable rules during their first team meeting.

Once the competition started, guard Kerr Kriisa was suspended for the first nine games for accepting impermissible benefits when he was at Arizona. Forward Akok Akok suffered a medical emergency in an exhibition and missed several games. Center Jesse Edwards missed six weeks with a broken wrist. Guards RaeQuan Battle and Noah Farrakhan missed more than a month before the NCAA allowed multiple-transfer athletes to compete for the rest of the season.

West Virginia had the Big 12's worst defense, giving up 81 points per game.

“This whole entire year, from the moment I got the job, has been full of challenges and problems to solve and issues to deal with," Eilert said after the 90-85 loss to Cincinnati. "It’s been quite the roller coaster, a minefield to navigate.

“We got to the finish line. It’s certainly not where we want to be from a record standpoint. But I think everybody learned and grew as humans and individuals.”

Eilert spent 17 seasons under Huggins, including one at Kansas State. In a statement on X, Eilert said he doesn’t know what the future holds.

“And quite honestly," he said, "I’m at peace with that.”

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball