Mountaineers Must Get Back To Doing What They Do
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With a holiday looming, West Virginia chose to take an early break against Fordham.
Not in the game’s entirety, and not throughout the entire team. But there was something missing from these Mountaineers as they battled an overmatched but game foe for 35 of the 40 minutes before asserting themselves down the stretch in the 86-69 win.
True, the victory finished off a string of 11 consecutive that included the likes of a comeback against Missouri to win the AdvoCare Invitational, a steady controlling of Virginia at home and a grit-it-out road decision at Pitt while battling in the face of foul trouble. But the flow and feel was amiss here, with even Jevon Carter commenting that the game felt “weird.” That was partly by design, as Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer mixed in various zones – mainly a 2-3 – that proved effective in limiting chances in close.
That led to just a four-point advantage in points in the paint for West Virginia at 34-30, Instead, the Mountaineers were forced to pass effectively, forcing the zone to move and adjust while poking and prodding for openings. Those came at a decent clip, but WVU had icy shooters still taking shots, players turning the ball over via mishandles and poor passes and a general lack of crispness that didn’t sit well with head coach Bob Huggins.
“You know, this thing about ‘I miss three, I have to prove I can make one’ is really crazy,” he said, referring to the penchant to keep shooting despite early misses. “I have said this is a great bunch of guys. They’ve really been coachable, and for the most part, they’ve worked hard. They are great on and off the floor. They do a good job in the classroom. They kind of do everything right.”
“Then today, they were hard to coach,” Huggins said. “Really hard to coach. I don’t know if it’s the break coming up. I don’t know if they underestimated Fordham. I don’t know what it is, but they were not very good to coach today. My message to them was ‘Can we get back to being what we were?'”
That is not just a team that’s coachable, but one that executes and understands the ideas and ideals behind the instruction. Too many times in this game West Virginia was out of sync on offense, and for some reason felt forced into deep threes from the corner that were seldom high-quality, step-in shots. It had chances against the zone just inside that area, and both Lamont West and Wes Harris took advantage in stretches.
But the 14 turnovers were too many, the points allowed in the paint too many, and the overall malaise too present. Chalk it up to what Huggins mentioned above and little more for now. This is – and Huggins would debate this – a team that has overachieved thus far at 11-1 overall and a top 10 ranking. There was the allusion to that with the previous ability to be coached. It wasn’t there in this one, and it’s a mild concern going forward only because the team now goes on break through Christmas, then has to reassemble and ready for a 10-2 Oklahoma State team on the road in just six days.
The Cowboys, by the way, also beat Pitt in addition to Florida State while losing to No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 6 Wichita State under first-year head coach Mike Boynton. Over the final 19 games of the regular season – the 18 in Big 12 play and the SEC/Big 12 Challenge versus Kentucky – West Virginia will face just two teams ranked below 82 in the RPI. The Mountaineers, of now, have seven games versus teams in the RPI Top 25.
“The whole battle is do that you do,” Huggins said. “We tell them all the time ‘If you are going to shoot the ball, know when, know where and know why.’ I don’t think we did that very well.”