Spotlight falls on Huggins, program
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The outcome of West Virginia's 73-57 WVU loss to No. 14 Oklahoma State really wasn't the story Saturday at the WVU Coliseum.
Mountaineer fans have seen that movie so many times, they know when the pratfalls and punch lines are coming. Perhaps it's even a bit odd that 10,038 showed to see the team that now has a 13-14 record.
It's like playing a compact disc or record knowing there's a scratch - and hoping it won't skip this time.
Except that WVU's team is more like a tape. The one in Mission Impossible that always self-destructs.
I could do as I've done in the past and outline some of WVU's gaffes. There were new ones on Saturday in a 17-turnover, 30.2-percent-shooting game that featured six Oklahoma State blocks. The Mountaineers got OSU star Marcus Smart to commit three fouls by the 17:26 mark of the first half - and couldn't capitalize.
"We were like, wow," said Cowboy forward Brian Williams. "Three fouls in three minutes."
It didn't matter. As has been the case this season, WVU fell apart like a Hollywood marriage.
Rather than list the miscues (have a whole notepad of 'em), though, let's get to the real story: head coach Bob Huggins.
He's the man in charge. He's the Hall-of-Fame coach in waiting.
Three years ago, the team was in the Final Four. This season, no opponent fears the Mountaineers. At all. Here's what OSU's Michael Cobbins said after Saturday's game:
"Give West Virginia credit. They came at us from the start - and even had a lead on us."
How the mighty have fallen. And stumbled. And thrown wild passes.
So afterward, the story was Huggins. He wore a towel around his neck at the postgame presser. His voice was low.
The main problem?
"There's a myriad of things you could name," Huggins said.
He addressed many of them, like the difference in his team from the first to second halves.
"It doesn't seem we compete as hard," said the coach. "What makes this a hard game is you have to do the right thing all the time, you know? When you're told a thousand times to not overrun the ball and then they make a pass and you overrun the ball again ... they've been told. There has to come a time when you figure out that's not the right thing to do.
"We got beat to loose balls. We got beat to balls going out of bounds. We had a bunch of guys stand around and watch."
Huggins patiently addressed other specifics, like the motion offense that's been, by and large, ineffective this season.
"We can't run a set because I have guys who have been here two years and don't know what to do," Huggins said. "It's totally inexcusable. Don't have any idea what they're doing. I can't call a set unless I have certain guys on the floor that know what they're doing. If I make a substitution, I can't run a set. We'll have one guy stand where he's not supposed to stand.
"I can't run a set after a timeout. It's inexcusable. It's totally inexcusable when they have the resources they have."
He spoke of passing versus throwing. He spoke of holding the ball over heads. He spoke of a lack of individual improvement.
But the story is WVU's overall program standing.
"I'm not going to lie to you; I never saw it coming," Huggins said. "I've always taken pride in the fact that I can get guys to play hard and I can get guys to compete. People didn't like playing against us because we played so hard and competed so hard. We tried to rebound the ball every time, you know? We did the right things.
"For some reason I haven't been able to reach these kids, which is my fault. I should've found a way to reach them."
Yes, he said, WVU's play is embarrassing.
"I've been embarrassed since the first game," Huggins said. "You go back and look. I don't get beat like that. My guys played so hard and competed so hard we never, ever got beat like that. Ever."
He said the players don't seem bothered. But back to him.
"It's not about me," Huggins said. "I knew when I came back how much it meant. Growing up here, watching Rod Thorn playing, then coming back here and playing, I knew how much it meant. But it's not about me."
We've seen his frustration before and it surfaced again.
"I don't have the answers, man," Huggins said. "I'd like to. I'd like to think I do. I thought I did."
What looms, however, isn't the fate of this team. It's burnt toast. What looms is the future of the team. Huggins has big men signed for next season. He does not have incoming shooters, unless you count Morgantown High's Nathan Adrian. And if we saw no improvement in young players this season, why would one expect anything marked next season?
So I asked the coach. I asked how concerned he is for the program's immediate future considering what he's seen this season.
"I'll fix it, Mitch," he replied. "I'll fix it."
And he's always been a man of his word.
But turning around this team next season might just be a Mission Impossible.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.