Ben Queen/MetroNews photo

Eron Harris made 1-of-13 from 3-point range in West Virginia’s two home losses to Oklahoma State and Texas.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s basketball journey to this point—spikes in optimism abated by moments of stinging reality—leaves the team right on pace with preseason projections.

Unfortunately for Mountaineers fans, those projections weren’t flattering.

Picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll, West Virginia (10-7, 2-2) certainly seems incapable of contending for a league title (OK, so we figured that much), and it now faces harsh odds of even cracking the league’s upper half.

Road wins at Texas Tech and TCU that restoked fans’ appetite at the outset of conference play were quickly doused by home losses to Oklahoma State and Texas. Barring a dramatic turn over the 15 guaranteed games remaining, WVU is destined to sit out postseason play in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002 and 2003.

Monday’s 80-69 loss to the Longhorns—the first time WVU has been completely overpowered this season—came at the hands of an opponent that was not only younger but also picked beneath West Virginia in the preseason. Watching Texas rip rebounds, locate open shots and control the action, the truth became obvious: Rick Barnes has jerked UT out of its one-year malaise, while Bob Huggins needs more time to fix what ails his program.

It also became obvious that West Virginia needed more time to recover from that gut-punch loss to Oklahoma State, which slipped away in the final 16 seconds. The demeanors of various Mountaineers after that loss seemed particularly deflated—almost like a team that had been eliminated from an NCAA tourney game. It felt like a line-in-the-sand moment, and when Markel Brown’s 3-pointer effectively erased the line, WVU didn’t fully reboot for Texas.

That was a matter of psyche, but Huggins’ roster also has constraints of skill and physicality:

— Low-post scoring, which figured to be a weakness from the moment Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton encountered eligibility issues, has been even spottier than expected. WVUs only dump-it-inside threat, Devin Williams, has struggled to score against the taller defenders from Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Purdue, TCU and Texas, making only 15-of-48 shots. As Huggins informed a Texas beat writer after Williams went 1-for-7 Monday night: “What are we 10-7? We’ve suffered inside for 17 games.”

— Lanky freshman Brandon Watkins has provided interior defense, but despite possessing a nice midrange jumper, he hasn’t made much of a dent offensively. In 10 games against top-200 RPI teams, he has six baskets.

— Remi Dibo has attempted only 12 free throws all season, an indicator he isn’t comfortable—or capable?— of slashing to the basket like he did on the junior college level. The 6-7 forward’s subsistence on 3-point shooting, where admittedly he’s knocking down a respectable 40 percent, makes it easier for defenses to account for him.

— Freshman Nathan Adrian is Dibo to the extreme, having attempted only three free throws total, despite playing more than 17 minutes per game. The Morgantown product will spend the offseason trying to expand his game.

— Without Macon and Holton, WVU hoped to mask its rebounding deficiencies with taller wings like Adrian and Dibo, but they have combined for only six boards per game in 36 minutes. Neither has much slack been picked up by Kevin Noreen, who in 16 minutes of action has averaged more fouls (2.6) than boards (2.5). Overall, West Virginia’s plus-2.1 rebounding margin ranks 65th out of 83 power-conference teams. “We sure as hell don’t rebound it the way we rebounded it in the past, so we have to make shots,” Huggins said.

— Gary Browne, who showed early dividends of offseason work on his shooting, is in a 4-of-21 slump since the Marshall game.

— Eron Harris made only 1-of-13 from 3-point range during WVU’s two-game homestand and 6-of-22 overall. He’s averaging 17.4 points per game but produced a total of 16 points in those two losses. While you certainly expect more from the Big 12’s third-leading scorer, it’s clear Harris isn’t among the league’s most feared offensive players … at least not yet. Right now he’s a decent player still acclimating to the attention given him by defenses, not a player capable of carrying a team.

“I’m wondering what the answer is,” Harris said after the Texas defeat. “What’s the answer for me individually? What’s the answer for us? How can I get myself going? I’m tired of losing, there are a lot of things inside of me right now.

“But we’re not going to give up. We’ve got a long way to go,” Harris contended. “If somebody believes this is the end of the world right now, they’re wrong.”

As Harris seeks to regain his mojo, it’s crucial teammates keep focus on developmental tasks—namely freshmen learning the offense and the Macon/Holton duo satisfying eligibility requirements for next season. If somebody believes this team is capable of any greater heights during the interim, they’re likely wrong, too.

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Comments

  • OKANYDAY

    Moral victories mean NOTHING to our basketball program here at WVU; and some of you just keep on making an excuse just like Huggins does. A win is a win, and a loss is a loss, it doesn't matter by how many points either way. Huggins used to dress and coach in a much better demeanor than he does now. In my opinion, he just sets an example of a lazy attitude and a bully coach during a game. So how can a team get better if the coach sets a bad example ? At least it looks this way during a game. It also appears Huggins wears about the same clothes during a game that he wears in practice. Come on WVU, we can be better than we are showing.

  • wvajoker

    sorry.....AWAY

  • wvajoker

    WILLIAM YOU WOULDN'T PAY A DIME TO WATCH WVU PLAY UNLESS IT WOULD BE AGAINST THE HERD, AND NOBODY GIVES A DIME ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK- SO, STAY AWAT

  • Dave

    Allen, Don't you just love making fun of the Mountaineers every chance you get?

  • The Wisetalker

    No one cares about "measurement"...how ridicules is that?

    We just want wins...

    Go sell crazy somewhere else...

  • mad hatter

    so let's just throw this season away, and think about next yr,,, o wait, that's exactly what we said last year.
    Let's hold good ole bobby accountable , right now, expecially at 3 mil per yr. someone needs to answer for this mess.
    Now we're saying holton and macon would make a difference,,, so why would i think think ,,, were either a mcdonald's all american? No...what have they done to make me a believer.?? well, one has so much academic problems he can't qualify, the other,, well, a felon on the team wasn't what i was expecting at my home university..
    I am slightly, no, overly embarrassed at what our find coach has done to wvu
    Now for goodness sakes, what makes anyone think we will be better next yr... being satisfied with a win over marsha and mediocrity isn't what i was expecting from Huggins... It's sad, really sad, how this has been, is ripping wvu off, and thanks to Luck , we can do nothing about it.

  • bill

    In the early stages this team was having fun, even when losing, they would show emotions and were in everygame, lately thinks have changed, I don't care what his averages are "one man does not make a team", I hope I'm wrong!!!

  • Jay

    I'm tired of the season's measurement hinging on development, not win-loss record.

  • hailey

    Huggins has lost it, his teams do not over achieve, or consistantly improve. They should be judged on wins and losses, that is what the guy get paid for, wins. The excuses from Morgantown are beyond unaccepable, time for it to be fixed or fired, that includes football also.

  • scott

    Christianity is becoming extinct, US in a economic depression, us gov't extorting money from the american people at an alarming rate, mass shootings almost daily, but yet, the same ol saps on here bashing the basketball program.......never ceases to amaze

  • mad hatter

    well, it's not fixed and another yr won't change much,, maybe if we beat someone of quality next yr , we might make the nit
    so very disappointed in huggins,,,,,a band named after him . "" asleep at the wheel" certainly describes what he's been like since his new contract,,
    tells me he may or used to have the ability to coach but now,well, he's got the contract so it's time to enjoy that man cave at home, and laugh at all eer fans and tax payers of wv for anteing up the money for his contract.
    we will easily see, we are over matched in the big 12, huggin's inability to recruit players who can qualify has put us in a bad situation,, but this is all on huggins , all.

  • wvrefugee

    The last time I got a 3 million dollar raise performance was attached to it.........oh wait, I've never had a $3 million dollar raise!!! Think about it!

  • squad

    i don't know..i guess if you look at the schedule it will be tough but last night tech beat Baylor, so one or two team will get hot and stave off the others.. what is a problem and demoralizing is that we should see improvement but the b12 is very bulky this year with lots of good, not great teams. same as with football we need a team psychologist or someone to keep these guys on an even keel. when I saw Oklahoma lose at k state they looked like they were thinking "we'll get you back" whereas we seem to dwell on the trauma of the loss too much here. i've seen pitino teams get fried sometimes by 20+ but they come back and win the games they are supposed to. this up and down stuff like the texas b ball and Maryland football games show we need someone working on the heads of the players. we hear about miss and shot and hang your head..really?? I like guys who get pissed when things don't go right. the right mind of a competitor NEVER hangs he head. this type of stuff bugs me when I hear coaches talk of that behavior. does belicheck or brady hang their heads when they lose? no... they go after the refs in the tunnel...
    call it man up, call it whatever..i don't want no hanging heads in the blue and gold no matter if they lose by 100.

    • WVU 1964

      WVU was one basket of winning the Oklahoma state game... Had enough shots to win the Texas game... Just missed the shots that's why we lost the Texas game too many shots didn't go in the basket... Bottom line... We are good enough just wasn't our time yet .Why ? Who knows?

  • pghmountaineer

    It's amazing to me how a lot of folks in here have come to accept "moral victories" and "wait till next year" as the new standard for our two major athletic programs. Man, I wish I had a boss like that who would allow me to produce the results that these two progams have shown over the past two years and still be employed.
    Especially at the salaries being paid to our staffs.
    By virtue of the fact that O. Luck has basically disappeared, this downward spiral will go on for a long time. The longer it goes on, the harder it becomes to turn it around.

    • Aaron

      I don't think anyone who understands sports in general and recruiting in particular accept subpar performances.

      In football, last yeas top 44 players (2 deep on both sides of the ball) were primarily younger players with the upper classmen coming from the JUCO ranks. Everyone wants to clean DH’s clock but the truth is, he’s getting some players in here. If they manage to land the 4 star RB out of NC, that will give them 3 or 4 (depending on who you listen to) 4 star recruits. That’s not been the case in the past as generally WV lands 1 or 2 4-star recruits.

      It’s a bit different in basketball. Huggins has been here long enough that the program shouldn’t be in this condition but it is what it is. He recruited kids that couldn’t handle his unwavering demands and style of play. He lost one whole recruiting class and parts of every other one since he’s been here. He’s responsible for that but with the current recruits; it looks as if he’s getting players who will stick around.

      One thing is certain though. If Holden and Macon are here next year, with what returns, they will be a VERY good basketball team.

      • William

        I NEVER WANT TO SEE HOLTON WEAR A WVU JERSEY.
        I WOULD NEVER PAY A DIME TO GO SEE HOLTON PLAY, HE SHOULD NEVER WEAR A WVU UNIFORM
        HOLTON - STAY AWAY!

        • Nobama!!!

          Don't you mean your mom would never give you the dime to spend?

        • Jon

          William, you are an absolute embarrassment to this fan base. Please go support some other team that fits your lack of intelligence better. i.e. Pitt, Marshall, Cincinnati, anyone but us.

        • Aaron

          I'm sure you will be missed next year when he plays.

        • Alum

          Finish the rest of your statement, that you would never pay to see WVU play in the first place.

      • mad hatter

        what in the world makes you think holton and macon are any good... this is a huggin's copout , trying to make us believe that they would have made the difference,,, who knows"?,,,we're guessing that huggins is correct and this yr and last shows us he's lost

        • Aaron

          Macon was the 56th best player his senior year and dominated AAU summer games.

          Besides the fact that I've seen Holton play, I know he averaged 10 points at Rhode Island as a true freshman and was mentioned as a key to WVU by almost every Big 12 coach.

          Do you believe they lack the ability to play in the Big 12?

          • mad hatter

            my guess is that he never plays one minute for wvu,,he'll probably be in jail by that time

  • 5toldU1s

    One thing that needs to be said is that the students and fans have so far done a GREAT job coming out to home games. It's obviously been a rocky season on the court and it would have been easy to jump off. Also the team itself has never laid down. We're all disappointed but as bad as it is to lose, at least we haven't given up, like we did way too many times last year, and unfortunately like the football team did. I knowing must seem like grasping at straws, but without effort, we're totally lost.