West Virginia probably hasn't played to the level Huggins had hoped, but the fact remains that the Mountaineers are still 11-1 entering the heart of the league schedule. That record was compiled in spite of problems at point guard and a lack of production from the supporting cast. Huggins thinks that some of West Virginia's problems may have been due to a packed schedule of games.
"The truth of the matter is that in going back and looking at it and thinking about it, we went 17 straight days because of games we were playing. That made it difficult to have two good days of practice [in a row]. So maybe [on the second day] we watch film and review and get some shots up, because we didn't want to wear them out. Looking at tape, I don't think we had legs. We played too many games in too short a time. Maybe that had something to do with why we were bad defensively and the way we rebounded the ball."
As to whether or not such a grueling schedule benefited his team, Huggins turned philosophical.
"You guys ask me questions about foreseeing the future, and I just don't know. The honest truth is that [at Purdue] we didn't run offense, and while they had something to do with that, we had a lot to do with it too."
Huggins use of an all-forward starting lineup has given the Mountaineers a different look, just as Villanova's employment of a four- or five-guard set has given the Wildcats a unique approach over the past couple of seasons. He isn't married to the concept, but does point out advantages that it gives his team, just as it did a conference foe from the past.
"Think back to the great Louisville teams," he related. "Denny [Crum] had great 6-4 guards. Up until last 6-7 years he didn't have a small point guard. Generally he had big long guys. I think he wanted to do that because they switched everything. In all honesty that has been good for us, but our help defense hasn't been good. We have to fix that."
Of course, that doesn't address the shortcomings on the offensive end, where the struggles of Truck Bryant and the injury of Joe Mazzulla have left the offense in the hands of Da'Sean Butler.
"We're going to try to continue to work with those other guys to get them offensively where we need them to be, but it changes the way we are going to play defensively," Huggins said. "My concern is that I don't want to wear Da'Sean out."
Butler, who played 40 minutes against the Boilermakers, leads West Virginia by far in minutes played, and care must be given not to grind him down over the course of the season. He remains West Virginia's leader in just about every way measurable.
"Da has a great aptitude for learning the game," Huggins reiterated. "He does a great job with everything. He has become a pretty good defender. He jokes that the reason he came here was to shoot threes and play zone, but he has become good in the man-to-man. He has done a great job with his body. He lost a lot of body fat and become more athletic, and has been a wonderful kid to deal with. He's extremely coachable. And off the floor one of the most popular guys to ever wear a uniform here.
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Huggins was also questioned at length about Devin Ebanks, who has bounced back from early season setbacks to perform at a high level.
"Devin is still a sophomore, so from a leadership standpoint a lot of that still falls on Da'Sean," he noted. "But Dev is going to assume some leadership things naturally because he's one of our best players. Guys look to your better players, especially at crunch time.
"Devin started out slow, obviously because he missed those games, but I think he's starting now to get back to where he was. His had is still bothering him a little bit, and I don't think he is shooting as well as he will be when it gets healed up."
Ebanks' hand has also contributed to some turnover and ballhandling issues through the first month of the season, but when he's healthy Huggins thinks that he catches and handles the ball well. That ability has led to him again playing multiple positions on the floor, just as Butler has done.
"We asked him to do everything: guard the point, guard the power forward, bring the ball up, play the two, play the three, play the four. He and Da have been asked to do everything for us. Those are the two guys you want to have the ball, and our other guys know that so they get them the ball."
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Huggins pointed out that the low shooting percentages of Bryant and fellow guard Casey Mitchell are largely due to poor shot selection.
"Truck's at 35%, and I don't think he's taking great shots. Casey has probably missed 8-10 shots inside paint where he's tried to force it up over bigger people. That's the case with Truck as well. I think they are forcing the issue close to the basket. Those are probably all offensive rebounds for Casey –- he has eight offensive rebounds and he's tried to shoot every one of them."
Huggins leaves no doubt that better decision making when driving the line would help Bryant and Mitchell improve their shooting percentage, and also increase their time on the floor.