By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The question that comes to mind in the shadow of this four-game losing streak in which West Virginia finds itself, a streak that will keep it from rising above the .500 mark for the season unless it can win out (Ha!) and then more than one game in the Big 12 Tournament, has changed.
A week ago what was running through an idle mind was what it would take to turn the Mountaineers into a competitive team next season in the Big 12. That certainly seemed like a fair question to ask as their first season was turning to ashes.
But now that it has turned to ashes with another unseemingly 91-65 loss at Kansas, the question may not be what it will take to turn them into a competitive team but whether they can become a competitive team by next season.
They are that far away.
The other day, after losing to Baylor at home, a team that came in on its own three-game losing streak which they really should have beaten, Deniz Kilicli proclaimed:
“I think we are just a bad team with bad players.”
One should not scoff at those words for they ring truer today than they did even then.
With Kansas playing on the other side of the court you got to see what really good players look like, winning players, and just how far this team is from that.
We in this neck of the woods have felt there were moments when Eron Harris or Terry Henderson looked like decent players.
Then we saw Ben McLemore.
Now Harris and Henderson are freshmen and one of the major problems with this year’s team has been that they have played like freshmen too often.
McLemore plays like a rookie … in the NBA.
In this game Henderson scored 20, Harris 11. That’s 31 points.
McLemore scored 36. He hit 12 of 15 shots … inside, outside, from downtown Kansas City. Didn’t matter, 5 of 6 from 3 while tossing in seven rebounds and four assists.
Folks, it’s a different world.
Kansas ran and ran and ran, so far, so fast that they wound up spending much of the day in the rafters on lob dunks that had echoes reverberating throughout Phog Allen’s old home.
It was a little bit easier for McLemore to score because he had Jeff Withey on his side. Withey stands somewhere between 7-foot tall and the Empire State Building, or so it seemed to WVU as he swatted away nine shots, missing by one block a rather rare triple double, having scored 14 points on 7 or 8 shooting and pulling down 10 rebounds.
So, getting back to our original premise as to what WVU needs next year to become competitive, we could start with saying they could use McLemore and Withey or facsimilies thereof.
That is why Huggins went out recruiting after this game. He is going to need a lot of help, especially from a shooter but there is another problem.
His team this year was built for the Big East and his recruiting for next year really was done with the Big East in mind, yet ball in the Big 12 is decidedly different. The game is less physical, the power forwards are less powerful and more agile, leading to matchup problems for WVU.
What’s more, Huggins is not exactly thrilled with the players he has who are eligible to return next season, which means that more than one of them will be shuffling off to another school, giving him some more scholarships to give out.
He just has had it with players not giving him the effort, dedication and passion he demands because what he’s seen has been a losing way of playing the game.
“This has not been the hardest playing practice group I’ve ever had,” he said after the Kansas loss. “It may rank among the worst.”
Because of that, improvement hasn’t come as it has in other years.
Huggins, in fact, noted that when Da’Sean Butler and Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks came they needed to improve in many areas and were able to do that because they all worked so hard along Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff and Wellington Smith.
“Da’Sean, Devin, Kevin, Wellington, the worked so hard, that’s why they got so much better,” he said. “The other thing about working hard is it helps your self-esteem because you know you are doing things to get better.”
This group just hasn’t given him that.
“Because of our fighting them every day to practice hard we don’t understand how to play well,” Huggins said.
Email BobHertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.