Checking on Huggins
With all the activity surrounding the West Virginia University football program lately Bob Huggins and his WVU basketball team has been largely ignored in this space. A quick glance shows us that the Mountaineers are currently 10-4 over all and 2-2 in Big East Conference play. The air around the program, at least from many fan’s perspective, is an air of concern. West Virginia’s run to the Final Four last season may have our expectations out of whack.
While 10-4 is not a bad record, there has been little on display to indicate that the Mountaineers can come close to playing at the level of last year’s team. At least that was a popular line of thinking as West Virginia took the floor at Georgetown last Saturday. After going through the non-conference portion of the season 8-2, the Mountaineers lost their conference opener at home to St. Johns. WVU then lost at Marquette and suddenly the team picked to finish a respectable fifth in the league was 0-2, with road games looming at DePaul and Georgetown.
The Mountaineers barely escaped DePaul in Chicago then won 65-59 in Washington over the Hoyas Saturday to keep the fans guessing. In a little over a week, the Hoyas went from the top 10 to 1-3 in the Big East after absorbing three straight conference losses. So, in the news that can’t really be considered news, the Big East is tough again this year. Half of the league’s 16 teams reside in the top 25 this week. Many analysts are currently projecting 10 conference teams will be in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Of course the conference teams are just beginning to beat on each other so who knows what the league will look like in March? Huggins is more worried about where his Mountaineers will be at that point. The loss of DaSean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith has left a void. Everyone knew Butler’s scoring would be missed, but the drop off in rebounding numbers wasn’t expected.
Saturday the rebounding numbers were good and a victory resulted. The Mountaineers have found points hard to come by at times also. Casey Mitchell arrived out of junior college last season with very strong offensive credentials. Mitchell even began last season as a starter, but his matador defense and struggles finding the flow in Huggins’ offense had Mitchell on the bench for long stretches. Mitchell can still find himself in his coach’s doghouse, but his offensive skills are abundant and he can go for 30 points at any time with great long-range jumpers and nice inside moves in his arsenal.
Thing is, Mitchell isn’t going to beat many teams by himself, plus his opportunities would benefit with help from some teammates. Preseason All Big East selection Kevin Jones was being counted on to provide some of that help. Jones has been in a bit of a shooting slump in the first half of the season, but there are signs of life in his offensive game. That will be key. Guard Truck Bryant and center Deniz Kilicli can offer some scoring, but neither has been able to on a consistent basis. Part of Kilicli’s problem has been foul trouble. Keeping the big Turk in the game long enough to get involved in the offense has been challenging.
At least the Mountaineers get to play at home for a few games this week. After hosting Providence Thursday night, WVU will step out of conference to play a Top10 Purdue team Sunday at 1:30 and then stay out of conference for the annual game with Marshall next Wednesday in Charleston.