The Times West Virginian

Sports

January 9, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs someone to step up game

MORGANTOWN — We exist in an era where technology has taken over all aspects of our life, from the way we cook to the way we clean to the way we enjoy our entertainment and information. Each day more and more mysteries are swallowed up in another program, which answers age-old questions thought to be unanswerable.

In a way, because of the way this is doing away with the mysteries of life, it is almost refreshing to see Bob Huggins’ West Virginia University basketball team’s struggling games and not need to delve into either a statistical analysis or a complete breakdown of their physical approach.

Hardly.

In fact, there’s not a bit of mystery to what has sent his Mountaineers off on a 7-6 start overall with a defeat to Oklahoma at home in WVU’s opening Big 12 game as it heads to play its first conference road game at Texas at 9 p.m. today. It will be televised on ESPN2.

Ask him what he needs to do to turn the team around and he doesn’t pull up any print outs, doesn’t look toward any computer analysis. No, not all.

What is the answer?

“At risk of sounding simplistic it would be nice if we made a shot every once in a while,” he said.

See, in basketball, the game comes down to this. Free throws are worth one point, baskets are worth two, and 3-point shots, not surprisingly, are worth three points.

The team that is able to compile the most points by putting the ball in the basket wins the game, and you are at a distinct disadvantage if you have trouble doing that.

“We haven’t shot very well, and we haven’t guarded as well as we normally guard,” Huggins said, that being about as deep as he wanted to get into this analysis stuff.

See, he’s doing things just as he did while winning 717 games. And he’s been through the routine of having a team not making shots.

“We’ve always missed shots. Oklahoma missed shots,” he said, referring to the team that beat the Mountaineers on Saturday. “They rebounded it. When you don’t make shots you have to find a way to score. We’ve always been proficient at scoring off the offensive glass.”

Certainly there were opportunities to score off the offensive glass. They saw to that by shooting 30 percent for the game.

As a way of comparison, last year’s team — which wasn’t particularly good — shot 43.8 percent from the field.

“We missed 11 shots inside three feet,” Huggins pointed out.

That’s point blank. And it’s not by a grade school team where the basket seems to be hung atop Mount Everest. It’s misses by players from 6-3 to 6-9.

True, there is a defense there and Huggins understands that.

“I love Oklahoma’s bigs, but they’re not shot blockiers,” Huggins said. “They make shots, but they aren’t like the players we’ll face the next few games that are going to block shots.”

The result was WVU was outscored 30-10 in the paint.

“That just hasn’t happened,” Huggins said.

And that it happened is an indictment in many areas … toughness, shooting, defense.

Naturally the fact that all these things that almost never happen with WVU are happening all at once make you wonder if this team is built to play the way a Bob Huggins team normally does play.

Huggins’ answer when asked about this isn’t quite so straightforward as the answer about an inability to shoot.

“We’ve always had seniors step up,” he noted. “We lost Joe Alexander, well, Da’Sean Butler stepped up. Then when he left Kevin Jones stepped up,” Huggins said. “We haven’t had anyone step up.”

That can be read only that Deniz Kilicli, who was supposed to be the senior block upon which this team was built, hasn’t grabbed hold of his senior season and willed it in the right direction.

In fact, Kilicli is averaging just 7.5 points a game and 4.8 rebounds a game while shooting 39.1 percent compared to 10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 50.1 percent last season.

Huggins is mulling over any number of changes, including going small, possibly with four guards.

“The only thing we can do is go back to the drawing board,’’ point guard Juwan Staten said.

And that’s what Huggins is considering. The inside game has got just too many faults at present.

For example, against Oklahoma the bigs scored two points in the paint in 80 minutes of play.

“Kevin Noreen isn’t going to score it in there,” Huggins said. “He just doesn’t have the lift to get over people. You never know what Dom’s (Rutledge) going to do with it in there. Deniz (Kilicli) has not scored it. Aaric Murray, if he can’t reach over you, he’s not going to score.

“I don’t know, what do you do? You sit here and think maybe we play smaller and maybe those guys can make a shot and we can spread people out a little bit and we can drive it and get to the foul line a  little bit more.”

Any way he does it, it will be a departure from what he wants to do but in the end you are what you are and you have to make do.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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