STARKVILLE, Miss. - To say that Bob Huggins was not exactly a happy camper late Saturday night would be an understatement.He sat almost slumped in a chair with a towel around his neck looking as if he'd just played 40 minutes of basketball rather than coached it. And his mood was no different than his look.Take, for instance, when a media member covering Mississippi State asked Huggins for his take on the No. 21 Bulldogs, who had just held off a strong rally by Huggins' West Virginia team and pulled away late for a 75-62 win. The game was the final one in this year's Big East-SEC Challenge, this one at MSU's Humphrey Coliseum in front of a crowd of 7,529."I'm worried about my team,'' Huggins said. "I think [Mississippi State] is really good. I think we suck right now.''
Well, so much for sugar coating it.While there were perceived positives in WVU's loss - the young Mountaineers were down by 10 points early on the road and didn't flinch, making it close until the final moments against a Big East-caliber team - Huggins obviously was in no mood to look for silver linings. So many issues need addressed and he hasn't much time to do that.On Thursday night West Virginia (4-2) plays Kansas State in Wichita, then has virtually no turnaround time before a home game with Miami Saturday night."We try to fix it,'' Huggins said. "That's all we can do.''
But where to start?Huggins has all sorts of things to work on, not the least of which are the basics of running the motion offense and playing help defense in a man-to-man scheme. He still is occasionally frustrated by turnovers (11 against the Bulldogs) and there was only mild improvement Saturday night at the free-throw line (14-of-20 for a team shooting 59.4 percent this season).But what bothered Huggins perhaps more than anything at Mississippi State was something even more basic - shooting the basketball.In a game in which Kevin Jones played only 25 minutes because of foul trouble, the 6-foot-8 senior was held to 14 points and nine rebounds, below his averages of 21 and 12.2, respectively. Most alarming, though, was that Jones made only six of his 17 shots from the floor and took an 0-fer on six 3-point attempts.
Senior point guard Truck Bryant, meanwhile, was 5-of-14 from the floor and missed five of his six 3s."Let's be honest. Kevin had six wide-open shots that normally he makes. Normally he makes at least half of them. He made none,'' Huggins said. "Truck had wide-open shots. Truck came off a ball screen and there wasn't anybody [within 15 feet] of him. And it goes off the side of the rim. You can say whatever you want, but we're not going to win if those guys don't make wide-open shots.''Huggins, tough, was asked if perhaps that wasn't at least a bit encouraging. Jones had, after all, been shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor this season and has a history as a good 3-point shooter, even if he hasn't warmed up this season. So can it simply be chalked up to an off shooting night instead of a more deeply-rooted problem?
"No, because I watch them bang it off the front of the rim daily,'' Huggins said.That's what he objects to most, is those shots that don't even get far enough to have a chance."I told them the other day, in my hotel room [in Starkville] I had a pretty big tub. It was 50 times the size of the rim,'' Huggins said. "But they can't even put the ball in that tub if they continue to bang it off the front. You have to get it over the rim. We didn't get it over the rim.''He singled out 6-foot-9 forward Deniz Kilicli, who had a pretty strong game with 14 points and seven rebounds. But it could have been stronger had he made short shots and free throws. Kilicli missed three of his first four foul shots until he slowed down and shot the ball up instead of driving it to the basket on a line."It's not rocket science,'' Huggins said. "You can't shoot it out and we shot it out. We didn't shoot it up.''Combine that with the continuing issues of teaching the freshmen how to play and it is hard to overcome in a short time. For instance, when Jones got into foul trouble Huggins tried to switch his defense from man-to-man to a match-up zone. But he had only recently gotten around to addressing the match-up zone in practice because of so many other teaching moments that had to come first.
Huggins noted Saturday night that even going to the match-up was problematic because Jones is his best player in that defense. Running it is difficult without Jones and making what should be routine adjustments to it during a game is nearly impossible."I try to make adjustments with Aaron Brown and he looks at me like I've got six heads,'' Huggins said. "It's not his fault. You can only work on so much stuff and we just put it in recently."We've got three returning guys. I've got to have two [newcomers] out there that don't have a clue no matter what I do. So I've got to get them better.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org