It's not as if players on the Mountaineer basketball team don't understand the issues. They know that poor individual defensive play, the inability to execute offensive sets and bad decision-making have cost their team four games to date, and will undoubtedly result in more unless they can be fixed. Unfortunately, while players on the team know what they problems are, they've been unable to stamp them out.
There have been improvements, so it's not as if a totally bleak picture is being painted. West Virginia has shown stretches of crisp offensive play and solid decision-making, but those times continue to be offset by mistakes and choices that high school teams should be able to iron out. It's that maddening inconsistency that has everyone, from head coach Bob Huggins down to the end of the bench, scratching their heads.
"We're not valuing every possession," senior guard Joe Mazzulla said in trying to pinpoint the root causes of the up and down play. "We don't box out on rebounds. It's a point or two every possession, and it adds up at the end of the game. We have to realize how important each possession is."
True enough, but that's identifying the problem, which is just the first step in getting it fixed. Understanding the nature and causes of them, and then getting a solution implemented, is the difficult part. It's not a schematic fix, or something that simply needs more practice time. West Virginia's players know that they have to box out and rebound as a team, because they have just one player, John Flowers, that has the athletic ability to jump over foes or out-reach them for the ball. The rest have to relay on strength, or positioning, in order to grab boards. They know, too, as Mazzulla outlined, that they can't waste possessions with the ball. They can't fire up 3-pointers with 25 seconds left on the shot clock, or drive wildly to the hoop and throw up shots in the hopes of getting a foul called.
Many of these issues are mental. It's easy to tell a player to do or not do something, but in the heat of battle that instruction sometimes flies out of mind. Developing the ability to make the correct choices and avoid those sorts of mistakes is tough, and its something the Mountaineers are still fighting to achieve.
"We have to get all five people out there on the same page," Mazzulla said when discussing different defensive schemes that could help. "That's been the biggest problem. We do things to ourselves that put us in difficult situations."
Teammate Kevin Jones has a similar take, although he identifies a different issue as one of the key challenges facing the Mountaineers.
Jones pointed out stretches in the St. John's loss where a lack of intensity hurt the team, and although it mustered some in battling back form a 1-point second half deficit, it wasn't enough to produce a win. Jones, like Mazzulla, sounded a bit mystified when trying to pinpoint the reason his team didn't play that way the entire game.
"I think we had intensity in shoot-around and warmups, but it didn't really translate to the game," he explained. "We showed it when we were down by 10 or 12, but we didn't do that on a consistent basis, Until we do that, we are not going to be the team we want to be."
Jones also identified other recurring themes, such as poor passes into the post and failing to find open teammates, as contributing factors, but as the list of problems grew, so too did his apparent frustration in finding a fix. He, like his teammates, know what they have to do. In most cases, it's not a missing physical ability, or lack of talent, that should keep them from executing and playing with desire. It's simply figuring out a way to make it happen consistently, both in practice and in games.
Unfortunately, there isn't any slack time remaining. West Virginia's remaining schedule is a brutal one, featuring the Top 25-laden Big East schedule as well as a home game with Purdue.
"The Big East is not going to wait for us to get better," Jones said. "We have to take that on ourselves."