By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It’s a tough act to follow, but West Virginia’s basketball team will follow Wiz Khalifa into the Coliseum tonight for its first home game of the season, and it can’t come any too soon.
The home opener comes 16 days after the first game of the year with WVU going out and testing itself against No. 23 Gonzaga, a game it would rather forget as it ended in a 34-point loss, then moving on to Florida for the Old Spice Classic, in which it lost to Davidson and Oklahoma while beating Marist.
The 1-3 start certainly is discouraging, but it must be noted that it came against difficult opponents, and Coach Bob Huggins believes that must be factored in.
“We’re going to be all right,” he vowed, for what, the 15th time since the season started? “We’ll get things straightened out. Truth is, to this point, we played a heck of a schedule. Whoever does it has it ranked the fourth toughest schedule in the country.”
The schedule eases up some with today’s 7 p.m. opponent, VMI, a team that has won three of six games while playing the game at a dizzying pace. The Keydets come off a 90-81 victory over Elon and also have defeated Old Dominion, 76-71, and Central Penn College, 116-81, while losing to The Citadel, 84-76; Army, 80-74; and Virginia Tech, 95-80.
But this game isn’t about VMI anywhere once you cross the border between Virginia and West Virginia. It is a game in which Huggins will be still trying to shape his 2012-13 team and correct any of a thousand different things that seem to go wrong.
It has been such a shaky start that one reporter in Huggins’ pregame press conference was moved to wonder if the team was in danger of “losing it.”
“Seem” is the operative word there, according to Huggins.
“It isn’t good, it’s as bad sometimes as you think it is. What is it they say? Things are never as bad as they seem to be,” he said.
“We’re not going to lose it. Thirty-one years and we’ve never lost it,” Huggins said in his most reassuring voice. “You have to learn from your mistakes.”
If that’s the case, Huggins has a textbook of a thousand pages to have his team learn from, for this is a team that hasn’t shot well from the field, hasn’t passed well, hasn’t run the break well, hasn’t rebounded well and hasn’t defended well.
Or so it seems.
After years of running the likes of Joe Alexander, Da’Sean Butler and Kevin Jones on the floor, Huggins now has a team without a double-figure scorer and one that has real troubles putting the ball in the basket.
This would seem strange, for these are high-profile players who have been scorers and anyone who knows kids who play basketball knows they spend a lot of time shooting the ball, yet it won’t fall here.
How does that happen?
“There are scorers who don’t shoot the ball real well,” Huggins said. “I don’t think any of us would say Kevin Jones was a great shooter, but he got his 20 a game.”
This is how Huggins sees what’s going on.
“Say you miss two jump shots but you get two layups and in your mind you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m two for four. I’m not having that bad a day.’ Then, when you shoot your next jump shot, you shoot it with confidence because in your mind you’re making shots,” he said.
“But what if you don’t have those layups and you shoot two more jump shots and miss? Now you’re 0 for 4 and you’re thinking the ball won’t go in. You have to do a better job getting layups ... but in all honesty, how many layups have we missed?
“We make some of those layups and all of a sudden you look at the shooting percentage and it’s pretty good. You go back to K.J., you know he made some 3s but he shot a good percentage because he found other ways to score. Scoring is not always shooting the ball,” Huggins continued.
“There are guys who score because they can shoot the ball but they find other ways to score. I had Ruben Patterson play for me who played in the NBA for 10 years and he couldn’t make a shot from me to you.”
It has been uncanny how WVU has failed to convert when it had numbers of the break, three times against Oklahoma, failing to get any points out of 2-on-1 breaks.
The odd part of that is that since WVU planned to run more this year than it had, they worked more on their transition game in practice than ever.
And as for finding points in other areas of the game, that just hasn’t happened.
“Against Oklahoma we had a couple of flurries around the basket, got three rebounds and missed layups,” Huggins said. “We have to do a better job of scoring around the basket.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.