MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bob Huggins has watched his restructured West Virginia basketball team play two live scrimmages so far this preseason - an intrasquad contest in front of fans 12 days ago and a closed scrimmage at Ohio State last Saturday.The date at Ohio State was no doubt more telling because it came against outside competition. To a certain extent, Huggins seemed pleased."We competed. I thought we really did compete,'' he said Tuesday. "But we didn't shoot it very well.''Therein rests the common thread between the only two quasi-games the Mountaineers have played. Both times Huggins was reasonably pleased with how his team battled, but not with how it shot the basketball.Is that reason enough for concern? Well, yes. And perhaps no."Yeah,'' Huggins said when asked directly if his team's poor shooting twice was a red flag. "But we make shots in practice. You would think at some point in time, it would translate into doing it in games. But we do shoot the ball well in practice.''The poor shooting is a concern, of course, because shooting was near the top of the list among many faults with last year's 13-19 team. The Mountaineers shot just 31.6 percent from 3-point range and 40.8 percent overall, compared to 38.1 and 44.8 for opponents.
But while improved shooting was a goal for this season, in that intrasquad scrimmage the team combined to shoot just 6 for 37 (16.2 percent) from 3-point range. The numbers from the closed scrimmage in Columbus, according to Huggins, apparently weren't much better.In addition to their routine scrimmages during practice, the Mountaineers have just one more chance to try to put the ball in the basket more consistently before the season opens a week from Friday at home against Mount St. Marys. That will come when WVU hosts Fairmont State Monday night in an exhibition game.Again, Huggins can't imagine why the shooting won't improve and is holding firm in his belief that the two poor performances in the scrimmage settings were merely coincidental.
"I don't think anybody's going to say Terry Henderson's not a good shooter or Eron Harris isn't a good shooter,'' Huggins said, referring to the guards who emerged as two of West Virginia's best scorers last season as freshmen. "They've kind of proven that they were. They just haven't done it yet this year.''Indeed, Henderson was a 40-percent shooter from 3-point range and Harris connected on 35.2 percent last season. They combined to take 43 percent of the team's 3s last year and shot a collective 37.3 percent, while everyone else shot 27.3 percent on the other 57 percent of the 3s.One of Huggins' objectives in rebuilding his roster was to add other scorers around those two. He's tried to do so with junior college players and freshmen, virtually all of them frontcourt players who can step out and shoot. The other two holdover guards, Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, have seemingly improved through offseason work."Our best shooter to this point has been Gary Browne,'' Huggins said without qualification. "He's there early and gets a bunch of shots up and I don't think he's ever not stayed after and got shots up. He's been our most consistent shooter.''That's odd, of course, because last season Browne was just awful, shooting 20.4 percent on 3s. And he doesn't have the classic shot, especially like that of Henderson.
"When Terry shoots it, you think it's going in, and it's kind of that way with Eron,'' Huggins said. "With Gary, sometimes I'm like, 'Ah.' And then it goes in. He's put a lot of time in.''BRIEFLY: West Virginia seems quite likely to go into Monday's exhibition game against Fairmont with just eight available scholarship players. There are only 11 on scholarship (of the maximum 13), freshman Elijah Macon is ineligible, junior Jonathan Holton is ineligible at least for now and junior college transfer Remi Dibo is out after having knee surgery.
Huggins, though, said that while Dibo was unlikely to play in the exhibition game, he should be ready four nights later for Mount St. Marys."It was supposed to be 21/2 weeks and it's been a week and a half,'' Huggins said. "I wouldn't think he'd play the exhibition game, but I would think he'd be ready to go by the first game. Obviously I'm not a doctor or a trainer, but if it was me I would be ready for the first game.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.