Clear Thoughts

Those of us on the West Virginia beat haven't been covering Bob Huggins long enough to know his reactions to every possible situation, but we've learned a few things from the coach who doesn't hide much of what he's thinking.

Following WVU's disappointing effort and play in its loss to Marquette, the veteran head coach was frustrated and despondent. Listing West Virginia's myriad ills (foul problems, inability to score, mental errors highlighted the roster), Huggins didn't pull any punches in describing exactly why the Mountaineers are now riding a two-game losing streak.

"We don't score the ball, then we take shots that lead to transition Guys are recruited to play at a high level, but we screwed a couple things up trying to take advantage of what they were doing defensively and we get out of whack. We're behind the eight ball because we have two guards. It makes it very difficult."

While that might sound as if the future Hall of Fame coach is making excuses, he's not. ("I'm not making excuses – we just have to fix it," he has said repeatedly.") He's simply pointing out that West Virginia isn't doing what its coached to do – especially those players that are new to the program. He's also not saying that they are incapable of doing so. It's simply, like most things, a matter of time and experience.

The bigger problem facing Huggins is that there just aren't that many alternatives for him to try in terms of shuffling personnel. Starting uber-hustler Cam Thoroughman might be an option, but it negates his energy boost off the bench. Plus, he fouls at a rate higher than that of Da'Sean Butler, so his time on the floor might not increase. Sitting a player to make a point, as Huggins has done more than once this year, is another option, but will it eventually have an effect? He, and West Virginia fans, certainly hope so, but in the meantime the Mountaineers are left with a less talented squad on the floor.

In every interview, Huggins answers questions honestly. I've never heard him give a "no comment" or blow off a question. Certainly, we don't get the full force or retelling of what he says in the locker room or in practice, but I have little doubt that we are getting a condensed version of his true thoughts. Huggins certainly isn't above using the media to reinforce what he's trying to get across to his team, and there's no problem with that either. It helps to provide a truer picture of the current situation of the team.

Take, for example, last year's squad. How many times did we hear Huggins say that he was proud of the way in which the players handled the transition from John Beilein to himself, and the attendant changes in philosophies and schemes? That wasn't smoke been blown. The 2007-08 squad did everything he asked, and as a result WVU made another Sweet 16 trip. This year, we haven't heard much in the way of praise for the team's practice habits or ability to mesh – and now those subpar items are having an effect on the court.

Huggins probably hates to lose more than I do, and that's saying something. It has to be difficult for him to restrain himself at times, especially when he sees mental errors. Not being able to put the ball in the basket is one thing – Huggins knows that his team is made up of some guys that are getting their feet wet and not confident enough to make decisive moves yet, others who suffer confidence issues when things go bad, and a third group that simply aren't offensive threats. That can be lived with. But basketball IQ mistakes, such as fouling a dribbler 35 feet from the basket with fewer than ten seconds left on the shot clock, reaching at rebounders in the back court, leaving a team's leading scorer unchecked in transition or fouling someone running away from the hoop on an inbounds play has to have him pounding the nearest table in frustration. Those, clearly, are the sorts of mistakes that the 2008-09 team can't make.

While there are still 16 regular season games left, this week's contests have become critical ones for a team that might be having a crisis in confidence or a lack of unity. West Virginia certainly was counting on taking home wins over Marshall and USF, but it can lose to anyone if the team isn't working together toward the same goals. When the story of this year's team is written, it could well be that the Marquette game is looked upon as the turning point of the year. Which way that turn leads, however, has yet to be determined.

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