First, the Mountaineers need to polish off their finals, then begin to polish some of the basic aspects of their game. As head coach Bob Huggins has often reiterated, and did again on Monday, he had hoped his team would develop better consistency from the perimeter, and connect more frequently from the foul line.
"I hoped that we would shoot free throws a little better than what we have, and just be a little more consistent," Huggins said. "Particularly on the perimeter, we are playing a lot of guys with a lot of experience and as the season goes they will have to become more consistent in what they do."
West Virginia has had to mix and match guard play this season due to the early illness of Daxter Miles that caused the junior to miss three games, along with a smattering of trying to see what backcourt pairings and rotations worked best. Miles and Tarik Phillip have both started and come off the bench - though Miles has again assumed the starting position as expected - while Teyvon Myers has played in every game. Jevon Carter has been the only perimeter player to start all nine contests, and he has struggled from distance, hitting 11-of-38 three-pointers for 28.9 percent. Still, with as much as Carter and Miles and Phillip do right, the guard play as a whole has featured a few too many turnovers and a heavier dose of the dribble than Huggins would like.
Regarding the free throws, West Virginia is shooting 65.4 percent from the line (166-of-254), which is just below their opponents' 65.8 percent. It's helped that better court and situational awareness has limited foes to 96 fewer free throws attempted, and as such 62 less made, as WVU's fouls are down significantly from what they have been in past years. Part of that, of course, is simply having superior talent and overwhelming the opposition, but that will cease in two weeks; the No. 12 Mountaineers (8-1) have three nonconference games left before the start of Big 12 play at Oklahoma State on Dec. 30. WVU plays host to a solid UMKC program on Saturday at 2 p.m. before finishing with two additional home games against Radford and Northern Kentucky.
If West Virginia is to address what Huggins believes ails it, it has little more than a fortnight before the sledding becomes significantly more difficult. The Mountaineers, who rank first in the NCAA in steals per game (13.7), turnover margin (14.9) and scoring margin (plus-33.3 points), are also in the top five in scoring defense at 57.1 points per game, but haven't faced a string of solid foes over the initial nine contests. It has allowed WVU to have 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes.
"I think it works for us," Huggins said. "Guys get tired the way we play. They do a lot of running, so with our guys, the majority of the time, it's people asking out."
With a win against UMKC, Huggins would become just the 19th NCAA men's coach, regardless of level, to reach 800 wins. He currently ranks ninth on the Division I wins list with 799, and is the second-winningest active DI coach behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. Huggins needs eight wins to tie Eddie Sutton for eighth place all-time.
"I'm old," he said when asked what the milestone would mean. "I haven't really (considered it). I really don't think about the past. I kinda gotta live in the present."
Note: Huggins also commented on the play of Nathan Adrian, who leads the team in rebounding and is second in minutes played and points per game. The senior forward has developed into the most reliable player on the floor for the Mountaineers, and one whose passing and ability to handle the ball and the point of the press have become invaluable.
"What I'm most pleased about has been his leadership," Huggins said. "He's done a great job of helping the young guys and keeping everybody on point and motivated. He knows what he is doing and he is without question our leader on the floor with knowing (where players are supposed to be.)"