MORGANTOWN - Bob Huggins has never been one to shy away from changing horses in midstream, especially when the first one was about to drown.Take his first few years at West Virginia, for example.Try as he might, he had a difficult time teaching a roster full of players he had inherited from John Beilein to play the kind of challenging man-to-man defense he likes. So in an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em moment, he tried letting them play the 1-3-1 zone they had drilled almost solely under Beilein.Huggins had never much thought about the 1-3-1 at all during his coaching career, but six years after that experiment he still keeps it as at least an option in his game plans.
We bring that up because it seems that Huggins might be on the verge of another significant shift. This one, though, he didn't have to borrow from anyone. He'd done it before, almost under identical circumstances."You know, a long time ago when I was first at Cincinnati, our guards couldn't make shots and I got tired of watching them miss,'' Huggins said. "So during a game I said, 'Why don't you guys go inside and rebound and let the big guys shoot it. They can't make any less.'"And they started making shots, so we really kind of changed to where our bigs shot the ball a lot more.''Call it déjà vu, but it might be about to happen again.
It certainly happened Saturday. With his three primary backcourt players - Juwan Staten, Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne - shooting a combined 3-for-25 against Virginia Tech, Huggins said why not again and let his bigs throw up shots that the Hokies never bothered to contest. Kevin Noreen and Aaric Murray did it six times. Four of them went in. And it was what kept the Mountaineers hanging around long enough to be in position to win the game at the end.And so now? Does Huggins keep on allowing - even encouraging - those shots?Well, why not?"I'm all for it,'' Huggins said. "I mean, they can't miss any more than our guards have.''
Still, it would be a dramatic departure from what had become the norm this season. Consider that it was less than a week ago that West Virginia attempted only six 3-pointers in a game against Marshall. Only one went in and almost all were attempted by traditional shooters. Murray hoisted one, but almost as a dare from a Marshall defense that considered the prospect laughable.Virginia Tech treated Murray and Noreen exactly the same, but so had other teams. That those two drained the shots should, if nothing else, assure that they won't be given the same uncontested looks in the future. And that can't help but open the interior of those defenses.But will it become a staple of West Virginia's offense? Huggins actually seemed so shocked that Noreen, especially, was able to do what he did against Tech that he's not entirely sure how to go from here.
"Kevin's never even shot the ball in practice,'' Huggins said. "It's not like he went out and did something in a game that he'd never done in a game. He hadn't done it at all. But if he can step into shots and makes shots the way he did the other day, he'd better shoot them.''Noreen does have the ability to shoot from the outside on his resume. Playing at his tiny Minnesota high school he was the third-leading 3-pointer shooter in the history of that state's high schools. But through two injury-plagued seasons here he'd tried only one."We had an intrasquad scrimmage [in November] because we had such a big gap between games and he made one there, but he only shot one,'' Huggins said. "I just thought he was confused about where he was on the floor when he shot that one.''Don't expect Noreen and Murray to be spotting up out there on every possession like some latter-day Kevin Pittsnogle because they just aren't natural-born shooters. Murray tends to put up line drives with little arc and Noreen's shot redefines ugly.But if they go in ..."You don't want them shooting shots that are going to lead to a fast break at the other end, but as long as they're in the context of what you're trying to do, they're just like the rest of them,'' Huggins said. "We may be better off having those guys shoot and our guards rebound. I don't know.''
If nothing else, Huggins figures to ride the tide to at least some degree. He's fond of saying that he'll usually let players do something until they prove they can't and this might be another example."I think they can,'' Huggins said. "I've always thought Aaric Murray could make those. I'd never seen Kevin Noreen shoot them. It was as much a surprise to me as it was anyone else.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1