WVU’s Huggins: Veterans ‘Haven’t Really Played’
Analysis of West Virginia’s 2018-19 team includes the grouping of several players as returning veterans. However, in the view of head coach Bob Huggins, that list is shorter when viewed in terms of playing time and on-court experience.
“Esa (Ahmad) is the only guy who played a lot,” Huggins said as he discussed the learning process of this year’s team and the teaching that usually occurs between the old hands and the newcomers. “Sags played a lot last year but we haven’t had him [this year] . We say Chase (Harler) is a veteran but he hasn’t really played. Beetle (Bolden) hasn’t played a lot.”
That has contributed to the learning process, as the absence of some of those players from the practice court has cut down on the ability to get used to teammates and their actions. When Daxter Miles was looking to pass the ball to Ahmad, he pretty much knew what Ahmad was doing, how he was running off a pick, or where he would relocate to when a teammate drove. This year, it’s a mystery.
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After making progress in the turnover prevention department, Huggins has added other tasks to his sheet. Shot selection, especially early in the clock, and defense are next on the list.
“We have to guard better. We have come a ways in fixing the turnover problem but we have to guard better,” Huggins outlined. “You put 50 at the rim and that helps.”
That last, in reference to Sagaba Konate, is part of Huggins’ continuing message concerning his go-to player, who is averaging only 26 minutes per game this season, and who sat out the entire Rider contest. Konate did return to practice on Thursday and Friday, but Huggins knows that without consistent participation from his standout frontcourt shotblocker, the Mountaineers are a different team.
Regarding shot selection, Huggins understands that too much harping on the subject can have negative results.
“It’s a fine line. You don’t want them thinking ‘Am I supposed to shoot this, or I’m not allowed to shoot this?,'” he asked. “You want to play them free, but you want them to play as a team. Their psyche is kinda fragile.”
That’s a dangerous spot for a young team to be in, and it’s not the first hint that some members of this year’s team retract in the face of strong coaching.
“I do think I have more patience than I once had,” Huggins said, acknowledging that his approach has changed somewhat. “I don’t know if it’s age or if I’ve seen it more. But it is frustrating to watch them throw the ball away, or see a guy wide open and someone shoots it instead of throwing it to them.”
While new metrics pump the efficiency of shooting either 3-pointers or lay-ups, touting that mid-range shots offer the least return in points per attempt, Huggins has a different definition on what defines a good take. He’s not implemented the Hoosiers “four passes before you shoot” mantra, nor is he returning to a guideline he once used regarding getting into the shot clock more deeply before putting one up.
“The best shot is a reboundable shot,” he explained, which plays into one of his team’s perennial strengths. “We are getting better at rebounding the ball. We haven’t had the full complement of guys.”
|WVU (4-2) vs. Youngstown St (3-5)||DATE: Sat Dec 1||TIME: 4:00 PM ET|
|VENUE: WVU Coliseum||LOC: Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 4-1|
|NET: WVU – 99 YSU – 311||TV: ATTSN||Last: WVU 105-79 (1982)|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
West Virginia will be facing Youngstown State on Saturday afternoon, which is off to a tough 3-5 start under former WVU assistant Jerrod Calhoun. Led by Kendale Hampton, who has a team-best 21 3-pointers fueling his 11.1 points per game average, the Penguins have been putting up long-distance attempts at a prodigious rate. Two-hundred forty of their 533 shots to date have been from 3-point range, but the results have been sporadic. They have made double-digit attempts in four of their contests, but overall are making just 32.5% of those tries.
The connections between the current Youngstown State staff and West Virginia are many. They start with Calhoun, who was a student assistant for Huggins at Cincinnati before following in his footsteps at Walsh College, and then as the director of basketball operations and as an assistant coach at WVU.
Calhoun then went on to his first head coaching job at Fairmont State, succeeding there with a 124-38 record before taking the Youngstown State job prior to last season.
Also on the staff is Director of Basketball Operations Mark Richmond, who was a student assistant for Huggins after a stint as a manager under John Beilein.
Assistant coach Jason Slay doesn’t have a direct WVU connection, but he does have Mountain State ties. He was a four-year captain at West Virginia State, where he participated in three Sweet 16 seasons.
On the court, redshirt freshman Geoff Hamperian is a native of Morgantown.
With all that familiarity, the Penguins might be thought to have a bit of advantage in terms of getting ready to face the Mountaineers, but Huggins shot that thought down with one of his pity one-liners.
“We’re on TV more than Homer Simpson, so it’s not hard to get it,” he said of any possible advantage Calhoun and company might hold. “Everybody knows what we do. It’s a matter of trying to stop it.”
In the past, West Virginia’s veteran coach has noted its difficult to play against friends and former associates, but with that number growing rapidly, he seems to have adopted a more prosaic approach.
“Once you throw it up it doesn’t matter,” he said of the switch that flips. “You have that bond, that relationship. When we go to the Final Four, we all hang out together. It’s very much a brotherhood until you throw the ball up. When you throw the ball up all bets are off.”
Huggins and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams are in a back-and-forth battle for sixth place on the all-time Division I wins list. WVUs’ victory over Rider pushed Huggins’ total to 849 — one more than Williams’ 848.
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WVU is 24-3 all-time in games played on Dec. 1. That is the second-best all-time winning percentage (.889) on an date on which the Mountaineers have played at least five games. West Virginia is 17-2 on Dec. 14, and is 8-1 (also .889) on Nov. 24.
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Youngstown State has players from 12 different states\foreign countries on its 17-man roster.
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WVU has committed 110 fouls this year, as opposed to the 144 called against its opponents. That has translated to a 41 free throw attempt advantage for the Mountaineers. They have been converting at a 71% rate, and have outscored foes by 32 points at the line so far.