Firing Line

Despite adding some height to this year's team, the West Virgina men's basketball team is going to live and die from the perimeter -- at least for a while.

When WVU head coach Bob Huggins set out to remake his 2013-14 team, he set his sights on balance. After weeding out some malcontents, he sought to fill his roster spots with a mix of players who could make shots from the outside and those who could retrieve misses, defend and even score some in the lane.

A look at the hoped-for roster revealed all of those parts, and early returns from preseason practices were optimistic. The shooters that were recruited were making the nets sing, and all four guard returnees were shooting better than they did a year ago. Inside, there was a mix of strength and length that, if not overpowering, at least offered some hope for better defensive play and some aggression on the boards.

Unfortunately, academics and injuries intervened, and they struck at two players, Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton, who were counted on to fill those latter roles. That left just Devin Williams, who has certainly played well as a freshman, but isn't ready to be a post scorer. He's also not the type of rebounder who can soar over opponents to snatch the ball away. That puts him, at least in one aspect, on par with every other forward and center on the active roster -- there's not a long, athletic leaper among them who can go up and take boards away from opponents, or get the ball when it's not coming directly into their zone. That's not an indictment of their abilities -- it's simply one talent/physical attribute they don't possess. year.

"We are going to be a perimeter-oriented team," Bob Huggins noted after WVU made just 12 two-point baskets, including only four in the second half, of the team's 70-63 loss to Wisconsin. "We don't have a guy to throw it in close to. Devin [Williams] isn't ready to do that yet."

WVU's other bigs, like Williams, aren't back to the basket guys, or even in-the-lane scorers yet either. Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian are three-point shooters, and although Dibo did show a pair of drives and pull-up shots against Old Dominion, he isn't comfortable enough yet to do the same against better competition. Kevin Noreen, as fans know, simply isn't an offensive threat other than on the occasional stickback hoop, leaving WVU no options in the conventional post game.

This doesn't mean that the Mountaineers have to totally rely on outside jumpers. Juwan Staten will have to continue to create off drives, and both Eron Harris and Terry Henderson need to improve in that regard in order to keep foes from simply crowding the three-point line on them. Gary Browne, as he recovers from injury, will also have to show more in the drive and dish game. But even if those options improve, they will start from the outside, and will put pressure on the Mountaineers to hit shots from long distance in order to be competitive.

West Virginia nearly overcame its inside limitations against the tenth-ranked Badgers, hitting a sparkling 11 of its 21 attempts from three-point range and cobbling together an inside presence from Staten's drives, dishes and acrobatic scoops. However, several of his teammates failed to deliver from in close, as they suffered three blocked shots and were clearly affected on a couple other shot attempts by the presence of bigger defenders in the lane. WVU's newcomers will eventually figure out how to use their bodies and position to get shots away in those situations, but for the foreseeable future the Mountaineers' fortunes will be in the hands of those perimeter shooters.

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