By Ken Cross
West Virginia’s Mountaineers won their seventh in a row Thursday night as they handled NJIT, 102-69, but Coach Bob Huggins had analyzed his team a few days earlier as he noticed several fundamental parts of the game that need to change as a Dec. 5 home matchup with Virginia looms while the Backyard Brawl with Pitt is on the horizon on Dec. 9.
“Did you ever go to the fair?” he mused, “Where I grew up they had all these little fair things around at all the different schools and they had all these things with the squirrels, with a big mallet. They just keep popping up every time you knock one of them.”
A great analogy for how Huggins sees the problems his squad has encountered. The seven-game winning streak has paced WVU after the 88-65 loss to Texas A&M in the season opener. For now, West Virginia has less depth than a year ago and the Mountaineers do not have as much experience as the past few teams in losing five key players from a year ago with Esa Ahmad out until next semester.
— WVU Basketball (@WVUhoops) December 1, 2017
Huggins wants stability in his offense which is something that will gel and get better for the time being, though players are still missing assignments. It is a step-by-step process that corrects itself and the soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach is waiting to see it play out.
“We were going to run something like screen the screener three times and I told the guy three times, ‘You are going to start in the high post, slide down to the midpoint, guy’s gonna come off of you, he’s gonna stop and you’re going to come off him.'” noted Huggins, “To me, that’s simple and he didn’t do it any of the three times.”
West Virginia had a strong 83-79 win over Missouri in capturing the Advocare Classic in Orlando. They trailed by 16 with around eight minutes to go and went with their all-out “Press Virginia” mantra. When that happened, the ‘Eers created turnovers and scored off turnovers. It was the single best eight minutes of the season.
“We made early rotations and did things we talk about all the time that we normally don’t do,” explained Huggins, “J.C. (Jevon Carter) and Dax (Daxter Miles) obviously keyed the whole thing but the other guys…I thought (Lamont) West was really good. He made some mistakes, but he ran people down after he made the mistakes which is kind of what we have done of a long time.”
Settling into the defensive rotations has been a problem as well.
“I hear the football guys talk about putting guys in space,” he said, “We put guys in space all the time. We’re so spread out that we have a couple of one-on-ones. We have to get to areas sooner. We rotate and the ball gets there before we get there and we have another guy out of position. The good thing is they are starting to understand, from there I don’t know.”
In addition, Huggins wants to make sure his most efficient big man, Sagaba Konate is able to stay out of foul trouble and gets to the glass.
“We’ve gotta keep ‘Sags’ on the floor, noted Huggins of Konate who is tied with sophomore Wesley Harris at 6.1 boards per game, “He can rebound it, but can’t rebound it from the bench. He is learning but has to put himself in position. It’s all about doing your work before your guy gets the ball, not after he gets the ball. ‘Sags’ has to learn to do that and he will.”
As for the Mountaineers, the functions of the game that Huggins wants to improve can all be fixed with experience and attention to detail.
“We don’t block out consistently, don’t early rotate consistently, our preparation to guard a guy is not where we need to be and we are not good from an execution standpoint,” he analyzed, “In 2010, I said for about half a year to do what you can do to help our team and when Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Bulter and Kevin Jones…when I told them ‘You’re not good at that, man, do this’ and when they did that we started doing better.”