’Tis the season to get some wins
MORGANTOWN - It is what it is for West Virginia's basketball team nine games into the season. And it is not pretty.
The Mountaineers are just 4-5, have lost by a combined 49 points to the two ranked teams on the schedule so far, have a collective shooting percentage that ranks No. 311 out of 347 teams nationwide (327th where 3-pointers are concerned) and have drawn the wrath of coach Bob Huggins not as much for poor play as even poorer effort.
Far from throwing up his hands in disgust, though, Huggins is trying to keep a positive outlook.
"Honestly, we let a couple of games get away that we shouldn't have let get away,'' Huggins said Tuesday, referring specifically to a three-point loss to Davidson and an ugly setback in which his team lost a 15-point lead at Duquesne. "If we don't let those get away, we're 6-3 and people think we're pretty good.''
Well, perhaps not pretty good, but at least better than what seems the current impression. The Mountaineers still have a 34-point loss at Gonzaga on the resume and that meltdown against Duquesne, defeats good teams just don't suffer.
Still, there is plenty of time to work on a resume and get to the point where "pretty good'' isn't a pipe dream. It will take stringing together a few wins at home in order to establish some confidence and if that's going to be done now is the opportunity.
A West Virginia team that has played just twice at the Coliseum - no small matter in analyzing the sub-.500 start - will do so for three straight games against mid-major, non-conference opponents. It starts tonight with a 9 p.m. game, televised by ESPNU, against Oakland.
On Saturday afternoon the Mountaineers host Radford and then, after a week off for Christmas, host Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 30.
None of those teams are intimidating, but neither are they walk-overs. Oakland is but 4-7, but has played the No. 40 schedule in the country according to the Rating Percentage Index. The Golden Grizzlies beat Valparaiso Monday night 70-68 and took Pitt to overtime a month ago.
Radford, meanwhile, is 5-5, while Eastern Kentucky - coached by former WVU assistant Jeff Neubauer - was 9-0 before losing by 13 at No. 10 Illinois Sunday. The Colonels are in the Top 100 of the RPI, but have also played the nation's 322nd-ranked schedule.
Huggins knows that a sweep of those three teams isn't going to dramatically change any perceptions of his team, but at this point the Mountaineers just need to string together some wins before Big 12 conference play begins with another home game, against Oklahoma, on Jan. 5. Then it's back on the road for three of the next four games.
"I don't know if anybody in the country has only played two games at home by now,'' Huggins said. "Now we've got some at home and hopefully we can get some momentum going.''
Despite Huggins' rather lengthy outburst concerning the effort of some of his players following Saturday night's 81-66 loss to unbeaten and No. 3 Michigan in Brooklyn, the Mountaineers did show some signs of improvement. They shot less than 40 percent again, but had a couple of hot-shooting streaks (including 12 of 18 to start the game) and with 41/2 minutes to play had erased much of an 18-point deficit to get within seven points of the Wolverines.
But there were also the continued problems of scoring inside and making shots consistently, two things that go hand in hand. Without the threat of that outside shooting, opponents are collapsing against Deniz Kilicli and the other inside players, and they aren't responding well. Kilicli missed his only three shots against Michigan and just minutes into the second half, Huggins sat him down, essentially for the rest of the game.
Kilicli showed up early for practice Tuesday and spent a great deal of time working around the basket against team managers pounding him with pads.
West Virginia might also return 6-foot-10 Aaric Murray to the floor after Huggins left him at home for the trip to Brooklyn. Huggins said Murray's attitude had been better the past two days and said he would likely dress for the game, but was noncommittal on actually playing him.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the Michigan game was the play of freshmen Terry Henderson and Eron Harris. Henderson scored 23 points and Harris 10 and both made some clutch shots. It's one of the few times this season that anyone has made outside shots for the Mountaineers.
Oakland brings to the Coliseum a fairly veteran team that plays only one freshman in the rotation.
Most of the scoring is done by 6-5 junior guard Travis Bader (19.6 points per game), 6-4 junior guard Duke Mondy (13.1) and 6-10, 245-pound sophomore forward Corey Petros (14.9). The Golden Grizzlies have only two players in the rotation who stand over 6-6.
BRIEFLY: West Virginia has played Oakland just once, a 95-71 win in the 2010-11 season opener.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Oakland at WVU