WVU Has Backed Itself Up Against The Proverbial Wall With Mistakes
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s miscues are feeding upon one another.
In a rather cyclical, and sickening, set-up, the inability to score has placed the onus more on the halfcourt defense, which has failed in its execution, which has led to made shots for foes and the lack of ability to set up the press. As analyst Jay Bilas of ESPN noted while in Morgantown for GameDay, basketball is a game that strings together and builds upon itself, and all the mistakes of the Mountaineers have built to five losses in six games.
It’s knocked a team once ranked second in the nation to likely out of the Top 25 regardless of what happens on Saturday versus Kansas State, and it’s made a losing smudge into a bonafide streak with significant concern.
“Everybody seems bouncier than us, more athletic than we are,” head coach Bob Huggins said after the loss to Iowa State. “Everybody is better than we are now. We don’t guard. We don’t have any pride in guarding. We won’t sustain anything. We are not tough enough to sustain anything. I usually have an answer and I don’t really have one. We have to somehow reach down deep and compete. It’s that simple.”
As Huggins noted, WVU got 40 shots to Iowa State’s 28 in the second half. The Mountaineers made 14, while ISU hit 16. That’s a percentage difference of 35 to 57-plus, and all the extra shots in the world aren’t going to make up for that. But the problems are more myriad.
During the 15-1 start, West Virginia forced turnovers on one in five possessions. It hasn’t done that in three of the five most recent defeats, with Iowa State being among the most glaring. The Cyclones hit 58 shots and turned it over eight times for 66 possessions before free throws are factored. That’s a turnover-per-possession percentage of just 12 percent, far below the 20 that serves as a bottom benchmark for success. Even worse, Iowa State outscored WVU 16-11 in points off turnovers.
West Virginia has also shot just 38.9 percent from the floor (129-for-331) in the five losses, which is solidly below the 43-plus percent during the 15-1 start. Included in that is a 42-of-132 performance from three-point range, a 31.8 percent clip which is below the 33.5 percent average for the year, and even that ranked 237th nationally.
Just how bad are those stats? If that 38.9 shooting percentage was extrapolated into a full season, it would rank WVU 348th out of 351 Division I teams. There are currently 35 teams shooting better than that 38.9 percent mark just from three-point range, let alone the entire field. The Mountaineers’ 31.8 percent rate from three? That would tie for 315th in the country. The shot selection has also been questionable at best for a team which is 55th in attempts (587), but 255th in makes (197 for 33.6 percent.) West Virginia’s 42.4 percent overall for the season is 291st nationally.
“We miss point blank shot after point blank shot. We come out of the huddle – and I’ve never had that in 40 years – and we have guys not in the right position,” Huggins said. “We do not practice the way we have practiced in the past. We have to practice the way these guys practiced early in the year. I wish I could put a finger on what it is. I don’t know if we got to thinking we were better than we were or are, or I have a bunch of lazy guys.”
It’s a chicken-and-egg argument, really. Which started first? It was likely the offense, though Huggins has lamented the defensive effort for more than a handful of games. And there is something to be said about the schedule difficulty with Texas Tech and TCU on the road and blue bloods Kansas and Kentucky at home. But this latest loss to Iowa State is perplexing in that the Mountaineers’ ran offense effectively enough, but pieced together their worst defensive performance of the year.
“The schedule has been tough,” Huggins said. “We have played really good people and we have the most one-day turnarounds of anybody in the league. Combine that with our travel schedule, and that’s rough. We have five and Kansas has four. Everybody else has maybe two. Nobody flies as far and as long as we do. You get back at 5:30 in the morning and you’re pretty tired, too. That’s part of it, but not all of it.
“We took so much pride in getting to the ball, making plays and being a great offensive rebounding team and everybody is better than we are right now. I thought we were going to be okay when we took their assault early and came back and tied the game, but we are not tough enough to sustain anything. To me we looked tired. But it’s not because of practice. I’d have had to have a chair and a whip to get them to practice hard, because they stopped practicing hard awhile ago. I don’t have any answers. I have been doing this for 40 years and I don’t have answers. I could sit here and lie and make stuff up, but I really don’t have the answers.”