Hard Work The Route For West Virginia Improvement
Hard work in practice is one of the remedies that head coach Bob Huggins sees for the many problems plaguing his team, but several obstacles remain in the implementation of that plan.
“We played a lot harder yesterday. We had a much better practice,” WVU’s head coach said before ticking off a handful of roadblocks to the improvement that can come from the grind of the practice court. “Sags didn’t practice again (Thursday) and his game has declined because he hasn’t practiced.
“The modern day deal is ‘save your legs’,” he said of the thought that too much work makes the players wear down. “How are you going to get any better? We went three hours strong every day at Cincinnati. Strong — and we got better.”
Huggins also referenced comments that Kobe Bryant made in a podcast (The Corp) that went back to his days under Phil Jackson, when the latter was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Practices are meant to be competitive,” Bryant said. “If your practices aren’t more competitive than the games themselves, you’re doing the wrong thing. And most of these teams and coaches have gotten into a mindset of resting players. Phil never gave us a light day. There’s no days off. You show up and you work.”
Whether or not that message was received, or whether it will stick, is the big question. WVU has been on an up and down path: lose, receive messages, change work habits, win, slack off, lose again. Prods to get in the gym, to work hard, to stick with strengths, have met with only middling results.
Huggins also lined up social media in his sights, which, like any technology, can be bent to dark purposes and have unintended side effects.
“Social media is a monster. They see stuff,” he said of players. “I think the hardest thing to do in coaching today is to get guys to do what they are good at. They think you have to do all this stuff to be a pro.”
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Perhaps Huggins was aware of the social media calls to play Jordan McCabe more at the point, where WVU has encountered a ton of issues. He has indicated that McCabe, like most other young players, hasn’t been ready to handle a primary workload.
“It’s primarily in knowing what to do with the ball,” he said of the issues that have kept not just McCabe, but other freshman and less-experienced players in a rut. “They are not used to the pressure. You are worried about the guy in front of you, when it should be like the guy in front of you isn’t even there. Then you can look and see.
“We had a guy open in the high post and had a guy open in the low post and the don’t get the ball. If you’re a Logan Routt or Andrew Gordon and you are down there working your butt off to keep the guy behind you and you are out there dribbling, who doesn’t even look to throw you the ball, it’s frustrating. And that’s not just Jordan. It’s basically everybody.”
Huggins noted that previous guards have had the same issues earlir in their careers, but they weren’t being asked to run the offense for 25-30 minutes. With 126 assists against 122 turnovers as a team heading into Saturday, he knows that’s not a winning formula.
|WVU (5-3) vs. Pitt (7-2)||Date: Sat Dec 8||Time: 12:00 PM ET|
|Venue: WVU Coliseum||Loc: Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 97-88|
|NET: WVU – 127 Pitt – 92||TV: ESPNU||Last: WVU 69-60 (2017)|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
Pitt, like West Virginia, is also on the front end of a learning curve. The Panthers have three freshmen in their starting lineup, but the difference is they have been much more productive than any of the Mountaineer newcomers as head coach Jeff Capel begins a rebuilding project in Oakland. He’s off to a solid start, with losses only to 14th-ranked Iowa and a one-point upset to Niagara marring the record. None of the wins have been against great competition, however.
Guards Xavier Johnson (6-3, 190 lbs.) and Trey McGowens (6-3, 185 lbs.) lead the way for the freshmen with 16.3 and 10.2 points per game respectively, part of a quintet of five first-year players who are in the top six of the Panthers’ leading scorers. Au’diese Toney, the third of the trio, adds 9.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest.
Senior Jared Wilson-Frame has been coming off the bench to contribute 13.4 points per outing, largely on the strength of 44% 3-point shooting. His willingness to embrace that role has given the Panthers a scoring threat off the bench, while also allowing freshmen to start the game, get the feel of the action, then come out for a break and some coaching before returning to the fray.
The Panthers deploy an array of guards and wings in their rotation, with only a pair of true big men anchoring the lane and the blocks. Sophomore Kene Chukwuka gets the starting call, tallying 5.7 points and 5.4 boards per game, and is backed by junior Terrell Brown (4.0/4.3). Their scoring mostly comes off second chances, as they screen and dive behind the guards, who drive the ball to the rim aggressively off perimeter motion and picks.
“If you don’t get to nine or ten wins in the non-conference, it makes it hard.” — Huggins on the chances of reaching the postseason after struggling in the early part of the season.
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Pitt is 3-1 at the WVU Coliseum over the last four meetings there, including the last two in a row. A victory on Saturday would match its longest winning streak ever in the building ( 2002-04). Overall, WVU is 24-10 against the Panthers in the Coliseum.
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The teams share a common opponent in Youngstown State. Pitt knocked off the Penguins 69-53, while WVU ran out to a 106-72 decision.
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Sagaba Konate’s bad knee, decreased playing minutes and opponents sometimes unwilling to challenge him at the rim have led to a decrease of more than one block per game for him this year over last. In 36 games a year ago, he rejected 116 shots, but has blocked just 15 in seven contests this year.
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Capel brought his brother on board on his initial coaching staff. Capel. They are the first brother coaching combination in the ACC since Seth Greenberg and Brad Greenberg were together on the staff at Virginia Tech from 2003-07.