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January 14, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN-Staten and Huggins need to make up

MORGANTOWN — There is one reality about college basketball that cannot be denied, and that is that the purpose of the games played in December and January is solely to put a team in position to make a run to the NCAA Championships.

Little else really matters, and if you accept that, West Virginia knows that at 8-7 and without a quality victory yet they are running out of time.

They had a chance to put such a victory on their resume Saturday when they had No. 18/23 Kansas State down a point in the final 10 seconds of the game, but mangled it badly, fouling to give them the easiest of roads to the tying and winning points and then botching the game’s final play.

There is no Kevin Jones, no Da’Sean Butler, no Joe Alexander, no Kevin Pittsnogle or Mike Gansey.

There is a potential player in that class, and that might be what made the Kansas State game so crushing.

West Virginia played the entire 40 minutes without its starting point guard Juwan Staten, who not only happens to be the man you would want with the ball in his hands on the last

possession to either shoot or pass, but who serves as one of your team captains.

Staten was dressed and on the bench, but he is serving an unannounced, and perhaps, unofficial suspension that has lasted a game and a half now, WVU surviving his departure in the overtime game against Texas but coming up one or two mistakes short against Kansas State.

Huggins hasn’t announced, per se, why Staten is not playing, other than inferring that he has been in disagreement with Huggins’ methods, most likely translating into game strategy but probably being more about the way he has expressed it to the coach.

“He’s going to get on the same page with me or he’s not going to play anymore,” Huggins said when asked for an explanation following Kansas State.

This in so many ways represents Huggins taking the high ground as he delivers a message to the transfer from Dayton — and of his other players, current or future, who may need it — that there is only one captain of this ship.

Rather than call for Huggins to ease up and get Staten back on the floor at such a crucial stage of the season, it is best to call for Staten to get together with his coach and agree to be part of the team’s effort toward reaching the NCAAs.

That is not any longer an easy road.

At 8-7, WVU has only 16 more regular season games left, all Big 12 games save for a difficult non-conference trip to Purdue next Saturday in a game that is taking on “must-win” proportions.

If WVU is a .500 team as it has been to date, that would leave it at 16-15 at the end of the regular season and in need of a deep run into the Big 12 Tournament to carry any hopes of an NCAA invitation.

True, this year’s edition of the Mountaineers is a young team, and often a trip to the NIT, if that lies ahead, can be used as a springboard for such a youthful group.

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

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