The question, then, is how to win despite a lack of interior scoring and, at times, an inability to defend the paint against taller, longer foes. The obvious answer is to make shots – something head coach Bob Huggins insists the Mountaineers' didn't do at KU. And it's not just about percentages; WVU hit 39.6 percent against Kansas against 43.4 percent versus K-State with vastly differing outcomes. The real insight comes when one dissects West Virginia's ability to make key shots or stops and then chase them with the other.
WVU was never consistent at either against the raw talent of Kansas. It didn't rebound as well as one hoped, and, even when it had open looks, didn't necessarily convert in the biggest of situations. The Mountaineers hung in the game on a series of solid plays and arguably better coaching, with moves like the five-out motion that triggered Nathan Adrian's three to get within 46-44 and the decision to remain in the zone to lessen mounting foul trouble. But when the caliber of ammo isn't quite that of the foe, the shots that hit must be greater than the shots that miss.
"We didn't make any shots; Remi had two wide open looks on sets and they didn't go in," Huggins said on the MSN by IMG radio postgame show. "Devin (Williams) fumbled the ball when he should have passed it back out. I really thought when (the scoring differential) was four, if we could get a stop, we'd get a wide open look at the three and we did. We make that and they tighten up a bit. … They know we can't throw it inside so their big guys just stand in the lane. They've got such great athleticism, they are so long and athletic it's hard to get things at the rim. I didn't want (Williams) down in the block rooting around; I wanted him to get 15-16 footers."
West Virginia, via Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton, expects to be better able to trade blows on the blocks next season. For now, however, one shouldn't expect this team to begin to do something it has yet to thus far. The Mountaineers aren't going to suddenly develop a polished inside presence. Williams isn't going to become better able to get vertical and become a better fast-twitch player when battling for rebounds. Kevin Noreen will remain workmanlike. Nathan Adrian can't be relied upon for points in the paint. And so teams will continue to anchor in the blocks and force WVU to shoot it, and utilize the incredible quickness of Juwan Staten, to win.
Terry Henderson needs better consistency and, at times, effort. Eron Harris, among the better spot up and catch-and-shoot players in the Big 12 has to stop trying to drive the ball. Play to the strengths, and maximize those; the shooting, the tough, intense man defense sometimes prevalent, the made free throws, the team combination on a possession-for-possession basis. Minimize the weaknesses, and certainly don't deviate from the primary and secondary abilities for third- and fourth-tier ones simply because something isn't working for a stretch. It might not be the game, the match-up, the evening, for a certain player. But seldom does WVU go cold all together.
"I'm proud of them in that they are playing hard and competing and they are unselfish," Huggins said. "They've been very much a team. We have guys who have bought in and that's going to take us along way."
If not this season, then next. The growth and progress has been obvious since the change in the calendar year. And, against Kansas, there was simply a bit too much of a mix of talent, ability, skill and size. A program like KU's will display that at times. But West Virginia? It's come a long way, baby. And it can still make further headway. But it has to be who and what it is, and, at times, pending foe and match-up, even who that is won't be enough. There are glaring holes and they're not going away this season. But that doesn't mean this group still can't compete, and compete well. Really, they already have and did today, even in a loss. The Mountaineers, through all of the tribulations, are one game out of third place.
"I just told them in there, when (Kansas comes) back to Morgantown, we are going to win," Huggins said. "We are going to figure out a way to win. We ain't dead yet. … The most important thing is we go home, rest, do what we need to do and come ready to play Monday. Iowa State is a good RPI team. We have to come home and beat Iowa State."