Tipping Point For WVU, Huggins
It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. No matter whether it’s a win or a loss, snap reactions often aren’t well thought out. That’s demonstrated on social media every nanosecond. Decisions based on only the most recent result can suffer from a lack of data, and often backfire.
That, however, is not the case for West Virginia’s moribund basketball team, and the situation that currently confronts head coach Bob Huggins. A five-game losing streak, combined with continued lack of interest and effort from at least a few players, have led to an inescapable conclusion: If Huggins truly believes what he is saying about his squad, then changes need to be made now to help WVU in the future, and those start with benching, and not just for one game, those who aren’t meeting his expectations.
“We’ve had a culture of guys who have led us. Guys who, when someone starts bitching in the locker room, tells them ‘Shut the hell up before I slap you.’ That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” –Bob Huggins
Before we dive into the details, let it be known that it’s not easy to make the decision to sit players who have repeatedly fallen short of the commitment levels required to be successful. In some ways, it might be seen as giving up on this year’s team. However, if there’s one thing that WVU has built its reputation on, it’s effort. It’s caring about the name on the front of the jersey. It’s about exhibiting toughness and working as hard as one can to be successful. There are players on this year’s team that do so. But just as clearly, there are others who are not.
“I’m just looking for somebody to play and compete,” Huggins said after West Virginia was flattened by TCU on Tuesday evening. “We got down and we kind of settled to lose. We didn’t follow the scouting report. Coach Harrison did a great job with the scouting report. But it’s only good if you follow it.”
The twin sins of not listening and not putting forth top effort, whether in games or in practice, is fatal to almost any team. It has put a knife in West Virginia this year, making the thought of postseason play as remote as Galaxy GN-z11 is from Earth.
“We’ve got a couple guys who don’t compete We’ve got a couple of guys who don’t listen,” Huggins said. “I’m not going to ask them to do anything any more. They can sit on the bench and be happy, I guess.”
This isn’t a new message from Huggins this year. In fact, it’s been heard after some games in previous years, when the Mountaineers were far more successful. Thus, it can be difficult to figure out whether or not it’s being used as a motivational tactic. If so, it’s clearly not working.
One statement on the MSN post-game radio show highlights the dilemma Huggins finds himself in. “We’ll fix it,” he said, starting with a familiar refrain but then expanding it. “I don’t know if it will be this year, but we will fix it.”
That obviously refers to personnel changes, which Huggins hasn’t shied away from before. The 2012-13 team and to a lesser but still noticeable extent the 2013-14 team, were plagued with similar issues. Recruitment of players who proved to have better approaches, along with encouraged transfers, helped set the stage for a great run of success over the next four seasons. Those sorts of moves can’t be made mid-year, but one that can is to play those individuals who are trying and listening, and in the process, perhaps begin building a better team in the future.
Making that decision will be painful in the short term. WVU faces ranked teams in four of its next six games, and that doesn’t include Iowa State, which is 12-4. Huggins admits that many of his younger players “aren’t ready yet.” They could well get overwhelmed by the avalanche of Big 12 competition. That’s the challenge which has put him on tenterhooks as to his approach this season. Play those whose commitment is questionable, but whose game experience is better at the moment, or those who are likely to get swallowed up by the competition? Sacrifice a couple of potential wins this season with an eye toward the future?
Accepting losses is something that is anathema to Huggins. However, playing those who want to play, who are putting in the effort but are still learning the ins and outs of the game, isn’t an admission of defeat. Instead, it should be viewed as a statement of what is and isn’t acceptable.
“They say the right things, but then they don’t go out and do them,” Huggins said of some of his players. “We probably gave in a little bit with what we want to do defensively, because we got tired of fighting them day in and day out. That was a mistake. That’s not our culture. We have some guys that didn’t buy in.”
Again, if true, the time has come to address it definitively.
“We’ve had a culture of guys who have led us. Guys who, when someone starts bitching in the locker room, tells them, ‘Shut the hell up before I slap you.’ That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Your upperclassmen are supposed to lead, and supposed to lead in a positive way,” Huggins said bluntly.
The time for that slap, at least in a figurative sense, has come.