The foremost of which is arguably balancing basketball and finals over the next two weeks. WVU stared finals this week, but has stretched the period for the exams from to nearly a fortnight, meaning school will not conclude until winter break begins Dec. 15. The No. 15 Mountaineers (6-1) play a pair of games during the stretch, starting this Wednesday against Western Carolina at the Charleston Civic Center. West Virginia also faces VMI during finals, and plays UMKC two days after exams are complete.
"Finals week is always difficult and now we have two weeks of finals, so you've got guys coming late, leaving early," head coach Bob Huggins said. "It's hard to find time when you can get the whole team together during finals week. I think it makes it more difficult (to prepare) along with the stress that everybody feels about taking finals. Fortunately we are at home, so at least they can get in there on their own and get some shots up. The biggest challenge the next two weeks is being able to balance finals and basketball."
From a pure on-court perspective, Huggins noted that he wants to see more consistency within the offense. West Virginia connected on just 4-of-15 three-pointers in the 66-57 win at then-No. 6 Virginia, but managed to hit two huge ones late from Lamont West and Esa Ahmad. The last came with 90 seconds left and gave the Mountaineers the lead for good at 58-55, and the team hit all six of its free throws down the stretch in a 16-for-19 showing overall from the line. Against Temple, however, WVU made just 11-of-18, and it was just 17-of-30 from the stripe in the victory over Illinois. It also defended well in the halfcourt against UVA, but struggled utilizing the press early on versus Temple.
"Run offense better, be more consistent shooting the ball and more consistent at the free throw line," Huggins said his team's most significant needs. "When you play 31 games, it's hard to be consistent over that period of time. You want as many bullets in the chamber as you can have so if something doesn't work you can go to something else. I think we did a good job of that with Da'Sean (Butler)and those guys; playing 1-3-1 and being able to press and switch things and then not switch things at times. The more people feel they have to prepare for, the better it is for you. I don't think any game is the same when playing 10 or 11 guys, to think they are all going to be consistent, because they are not. It's a matter of having enough people to where you can get enough guys out there to where you can play well every night."
Western Carolina enters with a 3-5 overall mark, and has been outshot and outrebounded while committing 126 turnovers against just 90 assists. The Catamounts are shooting 27 percent from three-point range in scoring 56 points per game while allowing 70.
"I have known (head coach Larry Hunter) for a long time," Huggins said. "He will come in with a good scheme to attack the pressure, and they are going to mix up their defense. We will see a lot of different things. We will see some man, some zone, a 1-3-1, a 2-3. We haven't seen the 1-3-1. We have seen the 2-3."
Huggins was also asked about West Virginia's No. 1 ranking in the latest Sagarin ratings, which have the Mountaineers above North Carolina, Villanova, Duke and Virginia in the top five. WVU is eighth in RPI at RealTimeRPI.com, with the 49th most difficult strength of schedule.
"When you look at the Sagarin, they look at strength of schedule and the strength of schedule has always been based upon the RPI," Huggins said. "I think and hope what's going to happen in the future is it's not just going to be the RPI. It's going to be a combination of four or five of those matrix so that it's not just one thing used, and one thing which could be manipulated (for NCAA seeding). They all have something a little different. Sagarin, for example, takes the score and whether it's at home or on the road. RPI it's just wins.
"It's something I have always tried, as best I could, to educate our guys on in getting into the NCAA Tournament and hopefully for us, more importantly than that, where we are seeded. It's been a forgone conclusion that we were going to get in, but then it comes down to where you are seeded and who's on that same line as you."