The Times West Virginian

January 18, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Shooting is Mountaineers’ measuring stick

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — In the final analysis, which is a lot closer than anyone may realize just four games into this Big 12 season, this West Virginia University team may be judged on just one thing, and that is the way it shoots the ball from the outside.

“If we ever get all our guys capable of making shots all at one time …” coach Bob Huggins said the other day, not bothering to finish the sentence, much as many of his players have not bothered finishing some shots since Big 12 play began.

“If Nate (Adrian) and Remi (Dibo) and Terry (Henderson) and Eron (Harris) … man, we could spread people out,” Huggins continued, almost wistfully.

Shooting, you see, is the measuring stick of this team.

Shoot well and they win.

Shoot poorly and they lose.

“When tend to live and die by 3. We have to find other ways to score,” is the way Juwan Staten put it after a poor shooting evening against Texas which resulted in the season’s worst loss, 11 points.

The problem is, this team doesn’t really have other ways to score. It doesn’t have an inside post presence it can go to. It doesn’t rebound well enough to count on second-chance points or on getting the defense boards and getting off and running on a fast break.

It is what it is … a perimeter-oriented team.

The problem is that since Big 12 play began, and the defenses became tougher and more sophisticated than what they had faced in most of their non-conference encounters, the shooting has been affected.

In the Big 12, which in reality has only 10 members, WVU ranks seventh in scoring and sixth in field-goal percentage in conference games at 43.7 percent.

From 3-point range in conference games, which is crucial to this team’s existence, it ranks sixth with 32.9 percent.

But here’s the tipoff on how unsatisfactory that is. Opponents in conference play are making 42 percent of their 3s against West Virginia, almost 10 percent better, and that has WVU standing ninth in defending the 3.

What was that Staten said about living and dying by the 3.

The problem, as has been well documented and maybe even over-discussed in recent days, begins with the shooting slump Eron Harris finds himself mired in.

A dynamic player in non-conference play who started dropped threes through the hoop with his first step out of the tunnel, now can’t hit one if left wide open.

In non-conference play, Harris hit 3s at a 44.7 percent clip. In four conference games, he has canned just 8-of-28 for 27.6 percent pace, proving this is not any imagined slump.

It is the real deal and would be absolutely disastrous to WVU had not Terry Henderson found himself and started hitting 3s at a.458 pace in conference play.

Harris’ lack of outside production wouldn’t hurt nearly as badly if Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian, each considered a solid 3-point threat, would find their pace, but Dibo is only 4-of-17 in the conference for .308 percent and Adrian just 2 of 9 for .222, those two on consecutive shots, meaning he has not scored a 3 in three of four Big 12 games.

The problem hasn’t been not getting decent shots. Huggins has had no public criticism of shot selection, of rushing shots or of stepping outside the offense to take shots.

“You’d think when you have as many guys capable of making shots as we do, it wouldn’t happen to everybody at once, but it’s kind of happened to the guys who have taken the majority of our shots,” Huggins said.

In today’s game at Kansas State, the outside shots figure to be open, so it is critical WVU finds a way to begin taking advantage.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.