"I don't think we are playing very well," Huggins said bluntly and truthfully following the win over the Bulls. "We played well in the second half last night and against Notre Dame, but we haven't put it together the way we are capable of playing."
When asked to enumerate the problems with West Virginia's defense, Huggins joked, ‘How much time do you have?' He proceeded, however, to describe the main issues that have caused the up and down play.
"We are not team guarding the way we need to. Because of our size we try to push things out and make passing lanes longer. Because of that, we've neglected our help defense, although we have been able to be good at both in the past. We haven't done both consistently. We did in the second half last night, but not overall."
WVU allowed just five field goals and 20 points to the Bulls in the final 20 minutes, but Huggins wants that sort of performance for the entire game.
The Mountaineers have been able to fight back from deficits caused by those defensive woes, but Huggins knows that his team won't be able to repeat those performances against better teams. Notre Dame and USF have one primary offensive weapon, whereas teams on the future schedule aren't so limited.
West Virginia also got to the free throw line against the Bulls, recording 21 chances. That isn't a hug number but was a marked improvement over the woeful four attempts the Mountaineers registered against the Irish.
"We were getting fouled," was Huggins' deadpan response to a question about the number. "I thought we did a better job attacking the rim. Truck [Bryant] made some shots, and that tends to spread people out when they are concentrating on Da'Sean [Butler]."
While Huggins cautions that playing time and rotations can depend on varying game match-ups and situations, he also hinted that Dalton Pepper may be working his way into a more prominent role.
"We're looking for guys that are going to do what the game plan is," Huggins said when queried about his changing rotations. "We play guys for defensive purposes, then play guy that can make shots. Dalton has been solid defensively, and he's a threat to make shots. We have to get guys out there that can do that."
Pepper, who has played more aggressively, although with the same level of composure he has displayed all year, has seen his minutes and productivity rise recently. He has seen double figures in minutes in four of his previous seven games, and just missed that mark in two others. He is making 36.7% of his three pointers, and has 11 assists against just three turnovers this year.
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Kevin Jones has his worst statistical game of the season against USF, but that doesn't keep Huggins from singing his praises.
"He's a wonderful kid. As good a guy as I have ever coached. He does everything that you tell him to do, and does it extra. He came in as more of a wing guy, and he continued to grow and gained weight. We have to use him inside and out because he's our best low post threat and developed into our best three-point shooter. He's in the weight room early, in the gym early, and stays late. He just wants to be a great player."
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While coaches certainly deserve credit for molding teams, Huggins acknowledges that talent is another part of the equation in determining who is "a great coach".
"Players separate good coaches from great ones," he said, no doubt with the idea that there are great coaches out there that never got the notoriety because their teams didn't pile up wins. "You can be one of those guys that everyone says can coach, but no one says you are a great coach. You have to have guys that can make shots and make plays"
Huggins also, in answer to a different question, highlighted one of the things coaches control that can add to their reputations.
‘[Jim Boeheim] has done a great job," he said of the longtime Syracuse coach. "I was fortunate to get to play against his team, which says how old he is and how young I am. He does a great job of getting guys to the right spots, and getting guys to fill roles."
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Saturday's contest with Syracuse will mark the first time two top ten teams have played at West Virginia since 1961. It marks the first time that tow top ten teams have squared off in the WVU Coliseum.
"We hope that we can get to where we are a top ten team and one of better teams in the league," Huggins noted. "If we get there, there will be a lot of match-ups like this because the league is full of top teams in the country. It's just a matter of us getting there."