No Fixes Evident For WVU, Huggins
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You hear the frustration in his voice, the desperation of defeat.
You’d think after 37 seasons of coaching college basketball, after coaching 1,210 games, Bob Huggins would have seen it all, the good and the bad. You’d think, considering he has survived all those years he would know how to fix every situation.
Yet he doesn’t.
This team that is now 10-14 and 2-9 in Big 12 play has him perplexed. Flummoxed. Baffled. Mystified. Confused. Dumbfounded.
He’s tried everything he can think of and none of it has worked. His team, which traditionally gets better as the season goes on, has gotten worse.
His last two games he’s lost by 55 points. To find a stretch this bad, you have to go back to WVU’s first year in the Big East — not Big 12, Big East, which was 1995-96 — when lost they lost by a combined 45 points to Georgetown (91-67) and Boston College (84-63) on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3.
Huggins admits he’s embarrassed, embarrassed by the way his team has played in one regard but probably more from his inability to reach them, to make them reach their potential.
He just hasn’t been able to reach them.
“It’s embarrassing,” Huggins said. “I’m embarrassed. I’m not sure our guys are, but I was embarrassed.”
He understands they aren’t very good without Sagaba Konate or Beetle Bolden on the floor and that losses will come. Don’t believe it, look at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, with LeBron James they were 50-32 and went to the NBA Finals.
This year they are 11-45.
So that probably has had the biggest effect and Huggins knows it.
“What we had planned on doing, we couldn’t do because we didn’t have (junior forward) Sags (Sagaba Konate). You can’t open the floor up the way we opened the floor up when we had Sags,” he said.
“Before that, we had Elijah (Macon), so we had people back there. Then, Sags is gone. If you go back to the Pitt game, that’s the way we played before. Then, Sags hasn’t played since.”
And WVU has not recovered, but it started, he says before that.
He had struggled with his knee all year, but with Bolden out too for much of the preseason and during the year with three high ankle sprains, a shoulder and a wrist injury, they were left with Chase Harler and three freshmen and JC transfer at guard.
“So, I guess what I’m trying to tell you is we had a whole lot of things to do with our perimeter that we probably try to do. You go offense, you go man, you go against the switching man, you go against a sagging man, there are a lot of things to cover,” Huggins explained.
“That doesn’t count zone and presses and half-court traps and different kinds of zones — be it a 1-2-2, a 3-2, a 2-3, a 1-3-1. If you don’t cover it, then it’s your fault when you lose when somebody throws it at you and your guys have no idea. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is we have a whole lot to teach three freshmen and a junior-college guy.”
He did it before but can’t find a way to break through this year. Certainly, this man who always was a player’s coach, hasn’t forgotten how to do it, so you look to the players.
The answer probably is that they can’t do what he asks, that they just don’t have what it takes.
“Let me give you an idea of what we’re up against,” he said. “Kansas loses to two bigs, the guy who is starting now was a McDonald’s All-American and he’s backed up by a McDonald’s All-American. They are playing young guys on the perimeter who were McDonald’s All-Americans or were the leading scorer at another Power 5 school.
“That’s not what we got. You can get by to a degree on talent. We don’t have that. The honest to God’s truth is we’ve never had that here.”
They made up for on the players adopting Huggins’ combative nature and by doing things differently than other teams, from the “Press Virginia” defense to winning game by rebounding, which is nothing less than on their guts.
“To be honest, I don’t know what to do,” Huggins said. “We could bring them in to get some shots but the reality is if they really cared when you shot like they shot, 3-16 from three, you have to care enough to come in on their own.
“For years and years you had phys ed in this building (the Coliseum) and women’s volleyball and women’s basketball and men’s basketball and wrestling and gymnastics and this was also the rec center before they built the rec over there. You had to be pretty creative to find place to go work on your game.
“Now we have the best facility in America. There’s no excuse. They should want to come in on their own to work on their game.”
Huggins picked up a stat sheet from the Texas game and peered at it.
“2 for 5, 1 for 6, 6 for 15, 1 or 3, 0 for 3, 0 for 1, 0 for 2, 3 for 5, 1 for 6 …. you probably ought to want to come in,” he said.
He accepts that they aren’t as talented as they once were, takes responsibility for it.
“I shouldn’t say this, but the reality is they are more talented than we are, and so we have to do things right,” Huggins said in the wake of the Texas loss. “We didn’t do things right. When you aren’t as talented as other people and you don’t do things right, it’s not going to be a good outcome for you.”
All of it may be excuses … the injuries, the bad shooting, the lack of desire.
Huggins knows that.
“For whatever reason, it just seems like we live in a society full of excuses and I’m not trying to give any excuses. My fault, I’ll do my best to fix it,” he said.
That doesn’t come with a magic wand.
If he can get a healthy Konate and Bolden back for next season — which may be a stretch for there’s still that strong chance that one or both will turn professional — if they mix with recruit Oscar Tshiebwe, if he chops away at those on his roster whom he feels aren’t contributing and finds help in the transfer portal or junior colleges, then maybe the return to prominence will be immediate.
If that doesn’t work out, it could be a long rehabilitation of the program.