LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - With one game to go in the Old Spice Classic, the punchline around West Virginia University's basketball team has been, well, at least it's not playing Gonzaga again.Today, the Mountaineers will take on Oklahoma (3-1), which, like WVU, was hammered by the Zags this season. The Sooners lost to Gonzaga 72-47 Friday and dropped into today's 4:30 p.m. consolation game against WVU, which will be aired on ESPNU.To fill you in on Oklahoma (which WVU could now play four times this season), the Sooners were was outrebounded by Gonzaga 51-24 and shot 32 percent (16 of 50) from the field. Oklahoma hit but 31.3 percent of its 3-point attempts.The Sooners' victories have been over two cupcakes and Texas-El Paso. Coach Lon Kruger has been starting no player taller than 6-foot-9 Amath M'Baye and is led in scoring by 6-8 forward Romero Osby, who had 13 points and five rebounds against Gonzaga.
The bigger story here, though, is the plight of the Mountaineers, who are expected to have a fine season with transfers like Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten in place.WVU coach Bob Huggins' new contract has a bonus that he'll get paid $25,000 for every win over Kansas, but forget the Big 12 kingpin for now. WVU (1-2) couldn't beat the Southern Conference kingpin, Davidson, on Friday.So far, the only claim the Mountaineers can stake is they are better than Marist, picked to finish eighth within the 10-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. (Give the Red Foxes props, though, for beating Vanderbilt on Friday.)First there were concerns about WVU's football team. Now there are concerns over the men's basketball team - and the Big 12 portion of the hoops schedule has yet to begin.After the Marist game, Huggins seemed calm."We're playing so many guys, it just takes a little while," he said at the time. "We need to play some games. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We've got 31 games and the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, so we've got a lot of games to go."But will WVU's team make the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight year?The Mountaineers have eight players averaging 6.3 points or more. Murray is averaging 10 points and 5.7 rebounds. Jabarie Hinds is averaging 9.3 points.But the team has offered up more bricks than Home Depot. Freshman Eron Harris is by far the best shooter at 78 percent, but he's only attempted nine shots, making seven. As a team, WVU is hitting 41 percent from the field, 25 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 62.5 percent from the free-throw stripe. In sum, it's awful.The Mountaineers took 60 shots to Davidson's 41 on Friday - and lost 63-60.There's more. Do you know who leads West Virginia in assists? Center Deniz Kilicli with seven. Point guard Staten has seven turnovers and three assists. Hinds has four assists.
Kilicli also leads the team in rebounding with 23, but he's also the team leader in turnovers with 12 and is but 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) shooting free throws.The poor shooting has led to long scoring droughts and much frustration."That's the problem, and that's been the problem for years," Kilicli said. "The team that went to the Final Four would have eight-minute droughts. It happened, but we guarded pretty good, and this team is more talented defensively than that team. We had Da'Sean [Butler] and that was it. Truck made shots and [Kevin Jones] got rebounds. Everybody [now] can make shots."Defensively, WVU has shown flashes. It did against Davidson. But after pulling to within one point, it allowed a wide-open Chris Czerapowicz trey from the corner.One can point to so many reasons for the early troubles. Kilicli cut loose of another."I don't know ... [The newer Mountaineer players] gotta get used to Hugs," Kilicli said. "I mean, we have new guys and once they get used to him, they'll start to make shots."
He pointed to discord."If they just play relaxed and stay positive with each other ... That's the whole problem. Everybody misses shots and we yell at each other. That doesn't help at all."Hinds disagreed with the characterization."We don't get on each other when we miss shots; we try to encourage each other," said the guard. "Some don't take it that way. That's not the case. We just have to play all 40 minutes and not take plays off."WVU has committed too many fouls. Already Murray and Kilicli have fouled out of games. That has led to frustration as well."You can't touch people," Kilicli said. "I'm working my ass off all summer, then the guy comes in and flops and I get a foul. Then when I flop, it doesn't work. I think that's total bull crap."Within the Big East, officials allowed more rugged play. The Turk doesn't know what to expect within the Big 12."I haven't heard anything and, even if I had, it doesn't matter," he said. "I'm going to play my same game. I'm going to bully people. That's what I do. If they're going to call a mess of fouls because I'm going for rebounds, well, I'm going to keep going."For four years, I've heard I don't rebound the ball. [Friday] I had 11 - and I still don't rebound the ball. Whatever."Get the team vibe? Not good.Oh, and sometimes it seems WVU loses steam defensively."We can be in better shape," Hinds said, "but we also have people coming off the bench that can play."Perhaps we should stop here and take stock. After three regular-season games, WVU is dealing with poor shooting from the field, 3-point arc and free-throw stripe. It is dealing with poor distribution and handling of the ball and Huggins' coaching style. There are signs of team discord and frustration with officials. There's the question of conditioning. Other than that ..."We don't have a lot of great players in there," Huggins said. "We've got some guys who can do some things. But individually, we're not very good. Collectively, we can be pretty good. We have to have them buy into 'collectively.'"We recruited Terry Henderson to be a good shooter. We've had guys who couldn't dribble. We've tried to get guys who can dribble. I don't think anyone wants to give Juwan Staten back. I don't think anyone wants to give Jabarie [Hinds] back. I don't think anyone wants to give Gary Browne back. This is the first time we've had guys not make plays."If you can't read the exasperation in Huggins' words, read on."I tell them all the time, you've got to get the ball in the lane, draw help and pitch it," said the coach. "We've haven't done that. [Opponents are] making us play laterally and there isn't reason for it. All we have to do is split 'em. We don't do it."It's not like they haven't been told. It's not like we haven't worked on it. We worked on [Davidson] and ball screens basically the two [practice] hours."He sighed."I don't know. Why do we miss 1-footers? Why do we shoot the ball without looking at the rim? Why, when we have a practice facility, aren't they shooting 1,000 free throws a day if they're shooting 2 for 7? I can only make them do what I'm allowed to make them do."And see how it goes at 4:30 today.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.