West Virginia University basketball Coach Bob Huggins is not a happy man these days. His team is 8-9 and is in need of a major miracle to advance to the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season. After watching Huggins’ team lose to Purdue, 79-52, on Saturday, an argument can be made that the Mountaineers will need some level of a miracle to be .500 and eligible for a NIT bid. Folks, the 27-point loss to the Boilermakers wasn’t really even that close, and Purdue was a team not even in the RPI top 120. Things are not going well for Huggins’ team that a couple months ago he indicated could be a top 10 team this year.
How could he have been so wrong?
That’s a good question that the future Hall of Fame coach needs to figure out. Huggins knows he needs to figure it out too, and says as much during his post game press conferences. He takes the blame and vows to fix it. Of course while in the process of taking the blame, he does mention that the players don’t listen to him, can’t remember the scouting reports, make stupid turnovers, miss shots, etcetera, etcetera.
So, yes, the players are to blame as well, but they are Huggins’ players and he rightfully shoulders the blame. Of course if fixing the team, which looks like it needs a significant overhaul, is the goal, where does one start?
Huggins needs to get better players, or more accurately perhaps, smarter players. Huggins predecessor, John Beilein, put WVU basketball back on the front page by recruiting intelligent basketball players to run his system. Huggins actually came in and ended up in the Final Four with a team that was primarily Beilein’s players. That statement is not intended as a slight at Huggins even though a lot of fans are touting that point as some kind of attack on him.
The thinking here is that Beilein would have struggled to get those players to a final four, but Huggins took players with brains and skills, added his toughness and voila, a legendary basketball team was formed. It was also a team that was easy to like.
Whatever Huggins has been doing in the area of recruiting has not been working very well. If you look at the seniors on the current roster only Deniz Kilicli has been a Mountaineer since he was a freshman. You will find no juniors that were brought in as freshmen, though Kevin Noreen is a redshirt sophomore. The point here is that two straight recruiting classes have yielded just two players. Not sure if all of that is on the coach because bad luck can be as much of a factor as poor evaluation, but it is hard to overcome blown up recruiting classes disasters back to back.
So, what’s the fix? By most accounts next year’s recruiting class will be strong with front line help, so now may be the time to get current freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson comfortable and ready to lead the team. I’m sure those two are very much part of Huggins’ plan in the future, but what he does with this team the remainder of the season will be interesting.