By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Coming off a 101-point outburst against Georgia Southern in a 101-68 victory, West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team moves forward in the second round of the Cancun Challenge, facing the Presbyterian Blue Hose in a 1:30 p.m. game today at the Coliseum.
Following the game, the Mountaineers head for Mexico to face Old Dominion at 6 p.m. Tuesday and then either Wisconsin or St. Louis on Wednesday.
Old Dominion routed Presbyterian, 69-51, on Thursday night, dropping the Blue Hose to 1-4 for the season.
It won’t get easier for Presbyterian against a WVU team that has gone from a plodding offensive group a year ago that could do no better than a 13-19 record to a high-flying, high-speed offense off to a 3-1 start.
“We’re running a lot more, if you notice,” guard Eron Harris said. “Last year we’d get a rebound, hold it, give it to the point guard and walk the ball up. This year we are out running.”
Indeed, it is a different makeup, for the big men a year ago were senior Deniz Kilicli, junior Aaric Murray, senior Dominique Rutledge and junior Kevin Noreen, the only holdover and not now playing a real big man’s role.
The big men last year seemed to feel obligated to slow it up,” Harris said. “This year we have young bigs, and they want to run.”
That most notably is Devin Williams, with Brandon Watkins coming off the bench, and, should Jonathan Holton get his eligibility, the running tempo will go even higher.
Huggins agrees with Harris only in part
Yes, the team is running more and running harder, something he has stressed, but he isn’t ready to pin why the team was less aggressive in the running game a year ago simply on the big guys … mostly Kilicli.
“In defense of Deniz, who I think everyone would point at, Deniz ran early and never got the ball, so why would he continue to run?” Huggins said.
“You know, Devin ran today, and I don’t think he thought he was going to get the ball. Juwan (Staten) makes a great pass to him, and he drops it out of bounds. He comes back to the bench I told him, you want people to throw you the ball, catch it!”
But there is much different this year than last, even with a lot of the same players directing the show such as Staten, Harris, Terry Henderson and Gary Browne
“We play so much better together. They’re so much more unselfish,” Huggins said. “Honestly, because we pass the ball this year. It’s a lot easier for guys to run when they think they are going to get the ball because they ran rather that running down there and standing while some guy is dribbling the ball and shooting it behind the backboard.
“I think the reason we’re running better is just because guys are running. Last year we had a running mentality, but it was like your dog and an invisible fence on the 3-point line. We would put the brakes on right there and couldn’t cross it.
“We’d run to shoot 3s (last year). How about run and make a layup once? I’d make them do it in practice, but we’d get in a game and they’d get to the foul line and stop and shoot. And think about it; all those guys who would stop couldn’t make them, either, by the way.
“I don’t mind (sophomore guards) Eron and Terry stopping there because I know they can make them.”
Staten can be added to that list now, having figured out how to score … much of it from going to the hoop. He’s done that so often and so well that at point guard he leads the team in dunks.
What’s more, this team is still growing because of its youth.
“I think we are used to being a good offensive team, but we are getting better. We still have some guys who we can’t trust with the ball, but they are getting better passing. To be the best we can be, all of our guys have to be trusted with the ball, be able to square up and pass the ball where we need the ball passed to,” Harris said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.