The loss to the Cyclones followed a familiar pattern – one that West Virginia fans have seen several times this year. The Mountaineers play reasonably well in the open half, using a mix of players, but suffer a second half collapse that puts them behind the eight-ball going down the stretch. Out go the majority of the bigs, in come some subs, and West Virginia rallies. In one league game – Texas – it's enough for a win. In others, it's not quite enough, and WVU comes up short. Different problems contribute, but in most postgame summations, Huggins seems to single out one or more shortcomings from certain frontcourt players. They often aren't by name, but it's clear who is in the crosshairs.
That played out again following the gut-wrenching 69-67 loss to Iowa State on Wednesday. WVU started out well, but fell behind by as many as 18 points in the second half when it apparently forgot how to play on both ends of the court. Reaching deep into the bench, Huggins put a four-guard lineup on the floor, with Juwan Staten, Jabarie Hinds, Eron Harris and Matt Humphrey arrayed with either Kevin Noreen or Aaric Murray inside. West Virginia suddenly began shooting like John Beilein teams of old, hitting nine of its final 13 three-point attempts to tie the game with 11 seconds remaining. That WVU made another hideous defensive error, allowing Georges Niang to make an uncontested layup with three seconds left, almost seemed secondary as Huggins addressed his plans going forward.
"I'm proud of our guys, but we keep trusting guys and keep trying to play them and we can't play them," he said, the frustration clearly evident in his voice. "We're just going to play one big and switch everything. We're going to find a guy who can slide his feet and go with him."
While Huggins hasn't been quite as clear in past statements, there's no doubt that he has alluded to such changes earlier this year. However, except for certain situations, no drastic changes have been evident in West Virginia's rotation. True, starters and sub roles have been changed, but for the most part, it's been the same players through much of the year, barring injury or suspension.
If Huggins is serious, and he plays to go with just one big at a time for long stretches, his rotation might look something like this:
Guards: Hinds, Staten, Browne
Shooters\Swings: Henderson, Harris, Humphrey
Bigs: Murray, Noreen, Rutledge
In putting such a lineup on the floor, more dribble drive motion offense would be seen, with the post player setting up on the block opposite the ball side. More true motion offense could also result, assuming that WVU can shoot at something closer to its second half rate from three-point distance against Iowa State. Understand, however, that this isn't a magic bullet. West Virginia will give up some rebounding with such a lineup, and won't be as physical inside. Yet, Huggins sees the need to make the move.
"This team was built to play in the Big East, and this is not a big physical league. It's just not. We have to go small and take our chances."
With any postseason trip now in serious jeopardy, Huggins would seem to have no other choice. He's tried every possible tactic to get defensive and rebounding productivity out of his big men on a consistent basis, and he just hasn't gotten it. At this point, the only failure left would be in not making yet another move to try to salvage the season.