Message Received?

Following West Virginia's 68-39 win over Duquesne, head coach Bob Huggins sent a very pointed message to his team concerning its play. On Friday, it appeared as if it that message had sunk in – at least a little bit.

While the Mountaineers played well on defense against the Dukes, its offense often bogged down into a disjointed mess. Running, or attempting to run, a motion offense against Duquesne's man-to-man defense, WVU's attack often bogged down as players failed to make the proper reads and cuts required to keep the offense flowing. Once a motion set is disrupted by a player or two that get out of position, it's usually very difficult to get it restarted and running again before the shot clock winds down. In Huggins' version, the cut and fill motion offense, success is predicated on screening, making the correct read and passing the ball crisply. None of those were consistent against the Dukes, and the Mountaineer relied on three-point shots and offensive putbacks for the majority of their points.

After the game, Huggins noted that several players simply weren't doing what they needed to do on offense, and that he was running out of patience, despite the fact that he had exhibited more this year than at any time during his career. As he attempts to build depth on the roster, he was willing to suffer some growing pains with the newcomers, as well as with the melding of veterans with others vying for more playing time. That period appeared to end on Wednesday, however, as the mercurial coach made it known, loudly and clearly, that it was time for his team to execute what he has been teaching them.

In practices since, Huggins may have seen the first step in that process. Noting that "practice was good yesterday", Huggins was happier with his team's performance. That's not to say that all problems have been solved, but at least it looks like his words from Wednesday night were not ignored.

Of greater concern is the injury situation, which has been a problem all year. In addition to Joe Mazzulla, who continues to play with pain and has limited use of his left arm, Devin Ebanks and Casey Mitchell are also hobbled – so much so, that Huggins is considering sitting them out of the starting lineup, and perhaps entirely, against Coppin State.

"We may make some changes in the starting lineup," he first admitted. "We have some guys banged up, and we're thinking bout not letting them do much [on Saturday]. Devin hit his hand early in practice yesterday. It won't heal up as long as he keeps getting it banged. The more he does that the longer it will take, so we may try to rest it. Casey's knee is bothering him again. I just think they will be better served if we give them time to get healed up so they don't have to play with those nagging injuries all year."

Ebanks also whacked his hand on a first-half drive against Duquesne, and was clearly hurting when he rose from the ground. He used only his right hand to support himself when he got up. Mitchell did not show a noticeable limp against the Dukes, but suffered more pain and swelling following the contest."

Huggins hopes that the seven-day break between the Coppin St. and Cleveland St. games will afford his players a better chance to heal, but that time off is pretty much it for his team, which has a difficult non-conference contest against Mississippi on Dec. 23, followed by a dive into the Big East conference schedule. If West Virginia hopes to hold on to its lofty national ratings, it will have to get better physically in a hurry.


Huggins noted that Kevin Jones' improvement can be attributed to one big factor.

"I think Kevin has gotten significantly better, and a lot of that has to do with his increased strength. He's playing defense and getting rebounds, and has learned what we want him to do."

Along with Da'Sean Butler, Jones has been the backbone of the team in its first six games of the year. He is averaging 13.2 points per game (second only to Butler's 16.8) and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per outing.

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WVU's RPI remained at three on Friday, although it will assuredly drop after facing Coppin St (#287) on Saturday. The Big East holds down five on the top 12 spots in the RPI.

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