By the time West Virginia University’s Basketball Team tips off against Syracuse on Big Monday this column will have been composed. That is mentioned up front so any mention of records was done prior to any knowledge of Monday’s result. So, heading into Monday’s game with the Orange, West Virginia has a chance to solidify their NCAA tournament resume.
The Mountaineers are 16-8 and 7-5 in Big East play and going to the Carrier Dome on Monday night was not a promising way to improve that standing. That dome is a tough place for opponents. Of course there was a glimmer of hope. While Syracuse’s 20-6 overall record looks impressive to West Virginia’s, the Orange were 7-6 in league play. Conference teams have given Syracuse problems and WVU certainly is capable of causing Syracuse difficulty with its defense. Whether or not the Mountaineers can score enough points to win has been an increasingly problematic question.
We have discussed the numbers problem with the team regarding players and it appears a by-product of that is a lack of numbers on the scoreboard. A couple weeks ago West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was down to eight scholarship players after the suspension of Casey Mitchell and the apparent dismissal of Dan Jennings. Mitchell returned after missing three games, but his potent offensive skills have not quite made it back just yet.
A disclaimer is warranted here. In Saturday’s 82-71 win over DePaul the Mountaineers looked the part of an effective offensive team with five players scoring in double digits. Unfortunately, it is difficult to read very much into that showing since DePaul is 0-12 in the league and last in defense.
In most losses, and in some wins, the Mountaineers have routinely gone on extended scoring droughts, or stretches where no field goals are recorded. Seven to 12 minute lapses have been common. It is maddening to watch as a fan. In losses to Louisville and Marshall, WVU was seemingly in control of those games until they couldn’t make a basket for over one quarter of the game. Both of those losses could have been averted with just bad shooting instead of atrocious shooting.
The sentiment among fans regarding Huggins is a little mixed with regard to this year’s team. While seemingly a minority, there are some blaming Huggins’ poor recruiting for the struggles of this year’s team. An understandable concern since there are only two players from the last two classes, Deniz Kilicli and Dalton Pepper, suiting up for the Mountaineers.
Looking at it from that perspective the question has some legitimacy. Most fans are still solidly behind the coach. Huggins got himself behind the eight ball a little with his most recent class. Only Kevin Noreen remains with the team and he has had season ending knee surgery. Huggins swung for the fence with three top recruits and lost on all three. All were considering WVU late in the process and one was basically a signing day switch. It is hard to fault the guy for that.
While the next batch of recruits look promising, the more immediate goal is to get this team into the proper post-season tournament. This will be fodder for the next three weeks, as we will debate how many wins WVU will need to get into the NCAA Tournament. Some say three more league wins to be 10-8 and some say 9-9 and a Big East Tournament win will do. Others say WVU needs a minimum of 20. The guess here is that 19 total could do it, because of the strength of schedule and high RPI. That would also be an uncomfortable seat on the bubble.
Back to Huggins and sentiment for a moment. How good a coaching job will it be if he gets this team to the NCAA? It would have to rate as one of his better ones.