Lack of Everything

Villanova came out swinging in Wednesday night's Big East battle against West Virginia, and the Mountaineers folded like Glass Joe in the old Punch-Out! video game.

If a game can be over by the first media timeout of the game, this one was. The Wildcats played hard, if not particularly well, early on, and WVU failed to respond at all. The Mountaineers didn't score until almost four minutes had elapsed, went down quickly by ten, and didn't show one bit of the tough defensive play they had evinced against Rutgers and Seton Hall in their past two games. If, as head coach Bob Huggins said earlier this week, that West Virginia is not afraid to go play on the road, it certainly showed that it hasn't figured out how to do so successfully.

West Virginia's puzzling lack of effort in this contest was evident from the start. The Mountaineers threw passes away and had more turnovers in 11 minutes than it did in an entire game a week earlier. It didn't fight through screens, and allowed Villanova open and uncontested jumpers that a middle school team would be hard-pressed to miss. It allowed a Villanova player to reach his career high in points just 16 minutes into the game, and let the Wildcats run up an embarrassing 24-point margin at the half with exactly no contributions from its best player.

This wasn't just a case of a team having an off night. West Virginia had one of those against Cincinnati earlier this year, but in that game the sense was there that the Mountaineers were at least giving their best effort. In this one, the evidence of that was much harder to find. Among the uglier events:

  • WVU twice committed a defensive foul with one second remaining on the shot clock

  • The Mountaineers were 2-5 from the free throw line in the first half, and were incredibly tentative around the hoop. WVU finished 12-20 from the line, but were just 2-20 from behind the three point line, where it was perfectly happy to gun up futile tries rather than try to get back into the game with more physical play at the rim.

  • WVU's biggest scoring run was a 5-0 spurt to start the second half. Villanova head coach Jay Wright called a timeout at that point, but it was about as necessary as building the Boulder Dam to contain a spilled cup of water.

  • The Mountaineers were consistently outhustled and physically dominated by the homestanding Wildcats.

    Perhaps the most disturbing item to again come into view was the lack of leadership for the Mountaineers. As WVU fell further and further behind, there was no fire or motion from anyone in a blue jersey. While it's true that some of West Virginia's players aren't of that type, this was a game that screamed out for someone to take control, score a couple of baskets and make a big defensive play. However, the Mountaineers just don't have a player of that sort on this team. When this team gets hit, when it gets challenged, when crunch time comes, it usually doesn't have an answer. That's part of the lack of toughness that Huggins has mentioned frequently this year, and it was on display in spades again in this contest.

    "They wanted it more than we did," Huggins said of the game. "We had a great walkthrough today, and I thought we were ready to play. I hadn't seen [Villanova] be that physical.

    Huggins lamented a lack of accountability by his players.

    "They run these crosses and we are just going to switch them," Huggins explained. "We work on it every day in practice and in breakdown for 20 minutes and in team for 20 minutes. We spend 80 minutes working on it. But then we have two guys guarding one, and leave another wide open. And we [act surprised] that they screen us. And we'll say, 'That's not my guy.' They just really wanted it more than we did. and it was evident from the start of the game. I told the guys that they moved better in the walkthrough than we did in the game."

    With all that said, WVU somehow still has a chance to earn an NCAA at-large bid. However, to do so, it will have to defeat either Connecticut or Pitt in the regular season, or win at least two games, and possibly three, in the Big East tournament. With only two wins by fewer than ten points this year, the Mountaineers haven't shown the ability to gut out close wins this year. They will have to reverse that in order to be in the field of 65.

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