Diagnosing the West Virginia FiascoPosted by dnspewak on January 28th, 2013
Tonight, it really begins. West Virginia will find out what the Big 12 is really all about when it steps into the national spotlight on Big Monday, facing none other than the program that has won the league every year since the dawn of time (or at least seems to have). The Mountaineers saw teams like Kansas in the Big East, sure. They are ready for the level of competition, but tonight’s match-up will truly indoctrinate the Mountaineeres into the Big 12 Conference. Since Day One, it hasn’t been an easy transition for Bob Huggins‘ team. West Virginia embarrassed itself in its season opener by losing big to Gonzaga to kick off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. It then finished 1-2 in the Old Spice Classic, lost at Duquesne (currently 7-13 and 0-6 in the A-10) and has now started 2-4 in the Big 12, with the only victories coming against Texas and TCU. Oh, and the Mountaineers played a CBS game against Purdue a few weekends ago where they lost by 27 points. So that’s where the Mountaineers stand heading into Big Monday: 9-10 overall, 2-4 Big 12, and with an angry Huggins, who seems to rip his team a new one after every single loss.
You can’t blame him. Over Huggins’ storied career, he has become accustomed to coaching and developing hard-nosed players who don’t back down from challenges and fight on each and every possession. His teams are usually famous for their toughness, defense, and ferocious rebounding. That’s why it was stunning to see this team bow out so pathetically in a blowout loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. With transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten joining a promising sophomore class, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion that Huggins would find a way to regain that tenacity. With his track record, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. Instead, disaster has struck.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong, but let’s not make this more difficult than it needs to be. West Virginia isn’t very good defensively — it gives up too many second-chance shots on the defensive end. It can’t score and doesn’t have anybody capable of taking over a game on the offensive end. These are not minor issues. They are big-picture problems that Huggins cannot simply fix by waving his hands around and performing magic. Just look at the statistics — they usually tell the story. They rank in the lower-half of Division I basketball in defensive rebounding percentage (#223), defensive efficiency (#182), offensive efficiency (#157), and assists per possession (#177). The Mountaineers are also one of the nation’s most foul-prone teams (#245), and that’s been an overlooked issue on this squad all season.
On the bright side they are in the top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage. Terrific. It still hasn’t helped. The odd thing is, Huggins has individual players with lots of athleticism and pure ability. Look at Staten and Murray, for example. He has big, strong guards and size up front, but it’s just not meshing into a solid basketball team — far from it, actually. You can throw that word “potential” around with Murray, but he has been unable to avoid foul trouble and can’t stay on the court long enough to make much of an impact. That’s why this La Salle transfer with future NBA talent is playing 22 minutes a game and is not even averaging double figures in scoring. Deniz Kilicli has had the same foul trouble issue, and that’s why he’s regressed in every single statistical category as a senior. Staten has been very good defensively at the point guard spot and is not having a poor season after transferring from Dayton, but he’s not playing at a dynamic level that will make up for his teammates’ deficiencies either. His other point guards — Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds — haven’t made enough progress after solid freshman campaigns a year ago. Boston College transfer Matt Humphrey was supposed to bring some perimeter shooting and versatile defensive ability at 6’6”, but he fell completely out of the rotation during the middle of the year. Freshmen Terry Henderson and Eron Harris still need time to develop, even though right now they are two of the only guys on the team who can knock down an occasional three-pointer.
This is what West Virginia has become: a mediocre defensive team, offensively challenged, and unable to close games out even when they are on the verge of a win. It staged a comeback at Iowa State before falling at the buzzer. It also blew a golden opportunity to beat Kansas State, losing by a point and misfiring on the final possession at home. Barring a miracle, Monday night could get ugly. It probably won’t get any brighter during the next two months for WVU, either. This team will lose only three seniors (Kilicli, Dominique Rutledge, and Humphrey), so most of these guys will return for 2013-14. Good or bad news if you’re Bob Huggins? Bottom line is, he will need to find a way to reach these guys and turn them into Huggins-like players. His program depends on it.