WVU’s Maturation Evident, But Whack-A-Mole, Role Issues Remain

Learning Curve Remains For Mountaineers Into Key Stretch

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There’s no question West Virginia should take pride in the rally that pushed them past Missouri for the Advocare Invitational. It’s also time to move past it.

“We played really, really hard, but now you’ve got to move on in trying to get ready for really a couple games in advance,” head coach Bob Huggins said.

The Mountaineers were incredibly crisp over the final eight minutes, outscoring the Tigers 23-6 to come back from a 16-point deficit. But there were glaring issues in the early portions of that game, as well as the opener versus Marist in which the Red Foxes nearly shot WVU out of advancing to the semifinals. Huggins has often mentioned the learning curve for his group, which has included defensive rotations and an understanding of the basic operations of the offense.

“We were gonna run something simple like screen the screener three times (versus Missouri) and he didn’t do it any of the three times,” Huggins said. “To me that’s pretty simple. We try to run a clear out for Dax when he got it going ad I told another guy to go stand in the short corner and he ran over and stood on the block on the side we were supposed to clear out. I understand they don’t know.”

Which is at least part of the battle as West Virginia continues to try and remedy its rather inconsistent play. For every flourish of a finish against Missori and domination of Long Beach State, there have been lackluster outings against American and Marist, the former of which WVU led just 44-33 at the half.

There’s little question the Mountaineers are improving. The performances are becoming more consistent as players settle into roles, and West Virginia showed its mettle in thriving over the final five minutes versus Mizzou without Sags Konate. Jevon Carter hit for 29 points and Dax Miles added 26, the two combining for a 22-of-23 effort from the line. Wes Harris added nine points and 10 rebounds, and is quickly establishing himself as the team’s best rebounder.

There are other signs of maturation. WVU forced 20 turnovers while committing just eight and scored 25 points off such – a major reason it was able to win despite deficits in rebounding, points in the paint, second chance points and bench points, all typical Press Virginia hallmarks. The difficulty will be in sustaining that extreme effort over extended stretches.

“That’s the first time they have did it for seven (games) so I would seriously doubt it,” Huggins said of getting the same intensity game-in and -out. “We made early rotations. We did all the things we talks about all the time that we don’t do. JC and Dax obviously keyed the whole thing. I thought Wes was really good. He made some mistakes but he ran people down after he made mistakes. That’s kinda what we have done for a long time. He got nine points and 10 rebounds. He gets better and better as he understands more.

“We gotta keep Sags on the floor. I think Sags can rebound it, but he can’t rebound it from the bench. He is just learning the game, but he puts himself in bad positions. The whole thing is, it’s all about doing your work before your guy gets the ball not after. Sags has a hard time understanding at at this point in time. He will, but it’s not happening right now.”

Put it on a list of what the coaching staff needs to address over the next five days as West Virginia hosts NJIT, then has four days before hosting Virginia on Dec. 5.

“You ever go to the fair?” Huggins said. “They always had that thing with the squirrels and that big mallet. You keep knocking them down and they keep popping up somewhere else. That’s what I feel like.”

So the Whack-A-Mole game continues for the Mountaineers with five nonconference games remaining, all winnable, if they can tidy up some of the below.

“We don’t block out, we don’t rotate consistently,” Huggins said. “Our preparation to guard a guy is not where it should be. We have guys who can make shots and ought to be pretty consistent. In 2010, I spent most of that season saying ‘Do what you can do to help our team.’ When Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler and Wellington Smith started doing that all the sudden we became a really good team. We just have to do what we can do well.”


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