The Mountaineers are struggling in multiple facets, and it has snowballed into a pair of defeats that's threatening to derail at least the middle portion of the season. WVU cannot stop opposing ball handlers, either in transition or in drives within halfcourt offense. It has largely failed to properly position itself on defensive rebounds and, as a corollary off that, it is still chasing impossible blocked shots that are putting it out of position for boards on the opposite side off the bucket, which is where most rebounds come off. West Virginia has also had issues on the offensive side, failing to hit jump shots and somehow, again, simply not being in proper position, and bodying up, to rebound the misses.
Want more? The Mountaineers are getting looser with the ball as the season progresses. The turnovers per game have jumped considerably, topping out at a season-high 23 in the 79-75 loss at Kansas State. What's worse, West Virginia forced just just 16, which is far down from its season average of 23.6. Over the last three games, two of which were losses, WVU has forced 15, 12 and 16 turnovers. Against K-State, those led to 15 points off the miscues, while the Wildcats scored an incredible 25 points off the Mountaineer errors. That's a minus-10 differential in a category West Virginia must win while also finishing with fewer steals with just seven compared to 12 for K-State.
"When the season started I told you we cannot turn the ball over and we turn the ball over 23 times to their 16," head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "It's carelessness. Esa (Ahmad) throws it away when it's a two-point game. Nate throws it away trying to make plays when they are not there. Doing what you're good at doing, not what you want to do - but what you're good at doing.
"We can't keep turning people loose at the rim. Our two guys who play the five position fouled out and the other guy had four. It's frustrating for me and for them. The reality is we have not had that edge. We need to get that edge back. I told them, we have three losses in the league. We have to stop making excuses and we have to guard. And we have to make shots."
WVU got outshot in both percentage and total shots - the latter an absolute sin - was outscored in second chance points and, because of much of the above, was dominated in the paint, getting outscored 40-28 - which marks the third time in four games that has happened. Even lowly TCU managed 40 points in the paint against West Virginia. Then there are the issues of playing hard. There's been a noticeable lack of effort in recent games, and it hasn't necessarily been for short stretches. What has happened is that not showcasing effort has become more the norm than the exception, and it's costing the Mountaineers big. Leads are evaporating, from a 15-point edge against Oklahoma to a 12-point advantage in this game.
The Mountaineers are also fouling, a result of not stopping the ball and thus needing to reach to slow drivers. They simply cannot stop the ball in the open court, and it caused two players to foul out in Brandon Watkins and Elijah Macon, while Jevon Carter, Nate Adrian and Sagaba Konate finished with four. Even basic on-the-ball defense has become a struggle. If West Virginia cleans up that area, it makes fewer rotations, which means it remains on its assigned opposing player for a greater duration of the shot clock, which means better block outs. It's as though, at least for this series of problems, one solution starts a domino effect that will clean up multiple other areas of play as well.
But it hasn't happened yet, and it all led, at last in part, to a 24-6 Kansas State run that erased WVU's 16-1 push earlier in the game that flipped momentum and turned the game into a back-and-forth affair in a hostile environment. Kansas State got the better of the attrition, and eventually secured the victory on perhaps the microcosm of the contest when West Virginia somehow turned an open court chance with advantageous numbers late into a turnover that KSU scored on via a run out bucket to essentially seal the game.
Frankly, right now the Mountaineers appear to be a tired team, both mentally and physically. It might be little more than a midseason lull, the dreary days of January finally emptying the tank and leaving a squad running on fumes. It's fair to expect and assume a bounce back as the team again focuses in as the conference slate continues. The question is how quickly West Virginia, now sure to tumble out of the top 10, and perhaps the top 15, can correct the course before this losing skid turns into a major streak.