MORGANTOWN - Early in West Virginia's morning basketball matchup with Kent State, there were jokes cracked. With a 10 a.m. start because of ESPN's 24-hour marathon, one wondered where John Hughes, who produced the "Breakfast Club," could be spotted.Coffee was the drink of the day. The announcer started with, "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the WVU Coliseum."Of course, after the Golden Flashes outscored the Mountaineers 42-27 in the second half and won 70-60, the obvious joke surfaced: Too bad nobody woke up West Virginia's team.No member of the Mountaineer team, however, was laughing on Tuesday. Not after losing to Division II Northern Kentucky team in an exhibition, defeating Oral Roberts by seven points and losing by 10 to Kent State - all at home. WVU has one of the nation's toughest schedules lined up, and the team needs to experience a serious growth spurt if it expects to compete for a fifth straight NCAA berth.WVU coach Bob Huggins is trying to be hopeful."We'll fix it," he said. "I just can't fix everything at once. I told you I would fix the rebounding and I put a much greater emphasis on rebounding the basketball. We outrebounded them 46 to 31, and that's a good [Kent] team and they have good athletes."Turnovers are a little harder to fix. Now, rebounding and defense ... Defense you have to know what you are doing and rebounding, more than anything, is effort-related. And we just had to crank up the effort."There were many reasons for the loss on Tuesday. First and foremost was the poor play of guard Truck Bryant, a senior, who had one of the worst halves of basketball ever seen by these eyes in the Coliseum. He was (again) out of control in the lane, his ball handling was poor and his shooting was off. A miserable day for the kid with the bright smile.But there were other reasons. Misguided newcomers were out of position. There was poor free-throw shooting at 16-of-28. Seventeen turnovers. And in the second half, WVU simply couldn't handle Kent's offensive attack. No matter if Huggins called for man-to-man defense, a 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone, the Mountaineers were dissected.Credit Kent, certainly. Good team. But if the Mountaineers can't defeat Northern Kentucky or Kent at home, that doesn't bode well after the team is finished with upcoming opponents like Alcorn and Morehead State.WVU big man Deniz Kilicli certainly wasn't smiling and didn't see any humor in Tuesday afternoon. After shooting 3-of-10 from the floor (his hook shot has vanished), yet grabbing 15 rebounds, he sat slumped in an interview session.
"Kent State is not a bad team," he said. "But it's not a Big East team."He paused."I can point to 25 reasons [for the loss]. But it comes down to one thing: If we don't compete, we lose every game. Division II, Division III, street ball ... you lose everything if you don't compete."He was distraught, and understandably so, after experiencing success the past three seasons. Kilicli hopes for a turnaround. He hopes the newcomers now understand they have to compete on every play.
"I hope so," he said, "because [today in practice] they will. We practice from 4 [p.m.] until 7. Then they will. And if they still don't get it, they won't have any legs. They won't be able to walk out of here. That's what's going to happen."
Kilicli was referring to Huggins' tough practices and dreaded treadmill for those making mistakes.It was suggested the newcomers were simply making mistakes."It's not a mistake," Kilicli objected. "A mistake is something you can fix. You say, 'OK, don't go to the wing; go to the corner.' It takes a couple tries and then you're fine. We executed better than we did before."It's not that. It's when [the other team] runs the ball and you just don't run back. That is just not competing. If you don't go to the ball, take one more step ... that is just not competing. You're not even attempting to do anything. That is not good.'"Team leader Kevin Jones tried to take up for the newcomers - to a point.
"We have to grow up," Jones said. "We have to mature quickly. Obviously, it's hard and kind of unfair for them to come into a situation in which they're counted on to play major minutes. But it's what they wanted coming to a program like this. They're going to have to step up - as well as everybody as a team."He shook his head."We have to take care of the ball. I mean in the last two games we've had 21 or 22 turnovers and today we had 17. We've always valued the ball since I've been here. It seems we've been doing that less and less."WVU is averaging 19 turnovers over the first two regular-season games. The bulk of those on Tuesday (six) went to Bryant. He has 10 on the season with six assists. Not a good ratio."To me," Huggins said, "if you're going to take my ball, I'm going to bust you in the mouth - especially if you come in my house and try to take my ball. That basketball has been very good to me."But the Mountaineers have more problems than Bryant and turnovers. The newcomers need to improve, sure. But the inside game is also not strong enough. Jones and Kilicli are simply not enough to get through a Big East schedule.One can go on. Seems like a tall task.If any coach can turn it around, however, it's Huggins."We'll fix it," he said. "Somehow, we'll fix it."Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.