By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., was a new arena open for business, home to the Nets, looking for attractions.
They decided to put a college basketball doubleheader in there, a neat attraction that would match two of the game’s better coaches in John Beilein and Bob Huggins, two of the better teams in Michigan and West Virginia University, and as a bonus it marked Beilein’s first meeting with his former team since he left for Michigan.
Seemed like it would be good TV, fun and an interesting national matchup.
Who knew that it would end up in almost a life-and-death game for West Virginia when the teams play at 8 p.m. this Saturday? Who knew WVU would be coming off a loss at Duquesne, a loss in which it blew a 15-point lead, a loss in which the Mountaineers’ inability to hit shots would again be exposed?
“I don’t think it was ever scheduled to be fun,” Huggins said when it was brought up to him. “I mean, obviously we thought we were going to be better at this time than what we’ve been. I think everyone thought it would be a marquee national game. We haven’t upheld our end of the bargain, so to speak.”
The losses haven’t been against lesser teams, at least until the dismal performance on Tuesday night in losing to the Dukes, 60-56. They lost to Gonzaga, Davidson and Oklahoma before that. They are losses nonetheless, and they have put the Mountaineers in a difficult situation.
“They’re all important to us now. We’re sitting here with four losses in eight games,” Huggins said. “Every game becomes important and every game becomes critical to us if we want to continue to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Whether or not this was an NCAA team wasn’t being questioned when the season started, as Huggins seemed to have made moves to correct the problems of a year ago.
But, it appears, everyone underestimated losing Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, for there is no outside shooting, and improving on a 19-win season might not be as easy as it appeared.
“It seems like right now we are having the same season we had last year, and we said since the beginning of the season this wasn’t going to happen,” said guard Gary Browne, who has been one of the better performers this season but like everyone else has had trouble shooting.
The most frustrated of the Mountaineers, though, is big man Deniz Kilicli, who finds himself facing double and triple teams each game because no one is taking the pressure off him by making outside shots.
It is so bad that guards, including all their layups and breakaways, are shooting just 34.1 percent and incredibly inept 26.4 percent from 3-point range.
As a team they are shooting 39.0 percent, down from the 43.8 percent of a year ago that was criticized.
Not one of the guards is shooting 40 percent, Staten tops at 39.7 percent, and Aaron Brown coming in with just two baskets in 18 tries for 11.1 percent.
The result is the frustration Kilicli is feeling.
“The last two games, you guys saw it, they put everybody in the paint. I’m not the only one seeing it, am I? Those guys watch film, too,” he said. “They are going to keep putting everyone under the basket. We have to make those shots.”
And what makes it so frustrating is that because they are packing defenses in, the shots they are missing are mostly uncontested.
“These are not the shots those guys can’t make. They can make those shots. They worked and worked on it all summer,” Kilicli continued. “Before the season I told you guys about this. We have to make shots. Apparently we can’t now.”
Huggins has sworn he will fix the problems and takes the blame.
“Here’s what I’ve always been able to get through to guys that I haven’t been able to get through to these guys yet,” he said. “The good players I’ve had (over the years) stay after practice every day. I can’t make them stay. We have a time limit during school. Our good guys have stayed. I’m talking about the Joe Alexanders, the Da’Sean Butlers, the Kevin Joneses. They stay every day.
“We have a guy who will stay one day and think it’s fixed or two days and think it’s fixed.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.