By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
After not playing for six or eight months, or so it seemed to the West Virginia University basketball team after suffering through a dismal opener at Gonzaga on Nov. 10, losing 84-50, the Mountaineers return to the court to face Marist in the opening game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.
The Mountaineers play Marist at noon today, then play again on Friday against the winner of the Davidson-Vanderbilt game, with another game on Sunday, perhaps playing a return engagement against Gonzaga.
“Until we play another game, we will still have a bad taste in our mouth from Gonzaga,” said point guard Juwan Staten before heading south.
There was good reason for Staten to have that sour taste, considering he was part of the overall collapse of the Mountaineers, suffering through a dreadful opener that included no points on 0-for-6 shooting and just one assist against two turnovers.
However, if misery loves company, he had lots of it as WVU shot only 27.3 percent for the game with eight assists and 20 turnovers, having neither an outside game nor an inside game and going completely without a transition game.
“The truth of the matter is we never got in transition. It’s hard to get in transition when you never stop anybody,” coach Bob Huggins said.
The last 10 days have been spent in the gym trying to fix the problems that had plagued the Mountaineers in the opener, although little but game experience can really solve it all for this is a team with three transfers starting, meaning it has very little continuity or history of playing as a team.
“We watched a lot of film, talked about what we did wrong, then it was just about going into the gym and trying to fix it,” Staten said. “A lot of it was within the team; we just didn’t go out and execute like we were supposed to.”
WVU played so badly in the opener that even former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay’s line from a time when his team was losing its first 26 games fit perfectly.
Asked what he thought about his team’s execution, McKay answered:
“I’m all for it.”
And that was how Huggins felt after the opener.
“Guys try to make plays that they can’t make, and that doesn’t help us. I think it’s a matter of defining roles. We really, up to that point, didn’t do a good enough job putting seven or eight guys together and playing them a lot, because we were going to try to wear people down. We didn’t wear anybody down,” Huggins said.
Most important is getting the big men involved in the game, especially senior center Deniz Kilicli, of whom much is expected this season. But in the opener, he was invisible, scoring just five points with five rebounds and five very costly turnovers.
If WVU is to improve its shooting, it is going to have to get help on the inside, both to relieve pressure on the guards and forwards but also because that is where the scoring is easiest.
“Deniz is very important for us,” Staten said. “The object of the game is to get the ball in the basket, and you have a better chance of doing that if you are shooting from close up. He will be key for us, getting the ball down in the paint.”
Marist is a good team to try and work out the kinks against. The Red Foxes are 1-2, with a win over Columbia and losses to Stony Brook and Colgate.
“They play hard; they try to spread you,” Huggins said. “They’re like everyone else. When they make shots they’re very dangerous, but when the shots don’t go in they struggle.”
The Mountaineers will try counter that with their own speed and hard-nosed defense, while using Kilicli’s size advantage inside.
“They are considerably smaller than we are, so they will try to spread us, shoot the 3 and back cut us a lot,” Huggins said.
The games will get tougher as the tournament goes on.
“It’s a heck of a field, a tough field, and we’re going to have play a whole lot better than we did,” Huggins concluded.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.