Festering Fissure

One gets the sense there is a divide among players on West Virginia' basketball team, at least in terms of what's expected on the floor versus current performance.

And it's coming from multiple directions. The issues are obvious. Lack of ability to finish around the rim. Lack of being able to run transition or stop foes doing the same. Consistency issues on everything from rebounding and shooting to focus and effort. Listening, concentration and ideas of selfishness were also bandied about following the 67-57 loss to Oklahoma.

It doesn't appear this team is failing to be cordial with each other. There's no individual name calling, and not much in the way of on-court hijinks that would lead one to believe there is an irreparable fracture. But players have been hesitant in interviews to fully open up about the team's problems, the vast majority speaking in vague references to the troubles that have West Virginia currently at 7-6, 0-1 in the Big 12.

Jabarie Hinds was asked about the miscues, and arguably summed the situation better than most by noting that he was surprised. "Yeah," Hinds said. "We are in conference play now, so we should know what each other is doing and how the game is flowing and I think we should have a better understanding on the court. Any team that gets a lead on us, they try and step on our throats. We need to do the same and I think we should be ok."

Keaton Miles has asked teammates, during a game, why they wouldn't pass him the ball. Juwan Staten refused to feed Deniz Kilicli in the post on multiple possessions in the loss to the Sooners. Staten wouldn't admit it, but there seems – at least in an underlying sense – a certain self-applied pressure by the point guard to create and finish because of Kilicli's inability to score from point blank range. And that, too, drew comments from Hinds.

"Coach runs plays to get the ball to certain players as close to the basket as possible, and it's our job to put it in," said Hinds, who is the first to admit he, too, is struggling with shooting. "I don't know why the shots are not falling. Some days (in practice), everything is going in. But it's not consistent. Rebounding, turnovers, silly mistakes that when we made them, (Oklahoma) capitalized. We come out strong in the first half and in the second half we kinda don't play to our competition. We kinda lay down, and that's what we can't do. We have to play for 40 minutes."

Terry Henderson indicated some Mountaineers aren't putting the team first, instead choosing to play when tired instead of asking for a substitute.

"Huggs tell us if you're tired, ask for a sub and we'll put you right back in the game," Henderson said, shaking his head and shutting down the statement mid-comment in to avoid further direct criticism of teammates. "I...I don't even, I mean, I can't … I only know how I feel out there. I don't know how other people feel. When I got tired I raised my hand and asked for a sub. But if we don't do that as a team, ‘cause, we have other people on the bench that will play just as hard. They've been on the bench and have fresh legs. I think we need to rotate that better."

Other players blamed focus and concentration. Some blamed effort. But whatever the issues – and they are myriad – West Virginia of now needs to simply better itself before it tries to better foes on the scoreboard.

"It's our concentration," Staten said. "Over 40 minutes, we have a problem concentrating. We kinda play in spurts. Then we go on droughts where we can't score or droughts where we can't get a stop. I think that's concentration. I can sense it. We were playing good defense. They were missing all of their first shots. Then they were getting rebounds and scoring of their second shots. Then we were fouling on top of it.

"For the most part, we get pretty good movement and we get good shots. But once out offense gets stagnant, we tend to get stagnant on the defensive end as well. We tend to relax on the defensive end. Guarding the ball, we relax and get beat off the dribble. Or a guy who is supposed to rotate is relaxing because the ball is on the opposite side of the floor. Then his rotation comes and he misses it and they get a basket. (Oklahoma) got a lot of second-chance opportunities and and-ones and putbacks. That's what gave them the game. When we have a lead at the half, we relax. Then the other team gets on a run and it's kinda hard to turn it off, and turn it back on again. I think that's our problem."

The answers won't come easily. The Mountaineers, according to head coach Bob Huggins, even lined up incorrectly on offensive possessions directly out of timeouts. It's beyond frustrating for everyone involved, from players and coaches to fans. And, at the risk of seeming overly negative, it's a very difficult fix midway through the season. Tweaks, if not quite overhauls, are needed in approach, in-game concentration and communication, effort, toughness, team-first mindsets and other aspects. The shooting problems WVU is facing – and this is a team Huggins said missed 11 shots within three feet versus OU – might actually be the least of their problems.

There isn't a go-to player to be a leader. Staten might be the closest in on-court play and personality, but he'll have to overcome being a court newcomer trying to reach juniors and seniors. Other players simply don't play with enough overall quality or don't have the personality to be a legit source of motivation or criticism to teammates. Even Huggins has said he doesn't have a lot of coaching answers unless players want to put forth increased effort.

"I think always in the past, we always had seniors step up," Huggins said. "We lost Joe Alexander and people said, ‘What are you going to do?' Well, Da'Sean Butler stepped up. We lost Da'Sean Butler, and Kevin Jones stepped up. I think our problem is we haven't had anybody step up. I mean, in all honesty, how many shots did you see K.J. miss from three feet? I mean, we're getting shots. We're not making any. And the flipside of it is we're not stopping anybody."

Except themselves. And, right now, there isn't significant evidence to suggest this team can turn the season around to even a salvageable point. Texas is, at the very least, a chance to start in the first of three straight winnable road games mixed with a home contests against No. 25 Kansas State and TCU. The proof, as they say, is in the play. The Longhorns were the beginning of the end for the football team. We'll see if the same school can serve as the end to the beginning for basketball.

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