Junior guard Marcus Thornton averages 19.3 points for William and Mary.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Through West Virginia's first 12 games of the season, Bob Huggins has been a patient man, some might say uncharacteristically so.He understands what his relatively young and rebuilt roster is up against.It is a group that has exhibited some talent. It has a good mix of perimeter players - guards like Eron Harris and Terry Henderson who can make shots, others like Juwan Staten and Gary Browne who can run the offense and get to the rim or make mid-range jump shots. He has young forwards like freshman Nathan Adrian and junior college transfer Remi Dibo who can stretch defenses with an ability to make shots. There are inside players like freshmen Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins who are developing.But it's also a group that at some point has to put all of that together. A dozen games, Huggins figures, should have given them a good start toward doing that. But with just one non-conference game remaining prior to the start of Big 12 play - today's 3 p.m. game against William & Mary at the Civic Center - it hasn't happened.
"I think we're to a point in time where maybe you take the kid gloves off and start treating them like veterans,'' Huggins said. "They've played 12 games. They've all played.''Time, in other words, is running out.Today's game against William & Mary (6-4) marks the end of the non-conference schedule for the Mountaineers (7-5). To say that the non-league portion of the schedule was less than satisfying would be an understatement. West Virginia beat just about every team it was supposed to beat and lost every one against the better teams it played.Someone suggested to Huggins the other day that after those 12 so-so non-conference games that perhaps the best course was to forget what has happened to this point and to start fresh, beginning with today's game with William & Mary and into the Big 12 season. But at this point, the last thing Huggins wants to do is forget what has happened so far. He'd prefer that the mistakes that have been made remain fresh in his players' minds."I think you learn from the past. I'm a big believer in history,'' Huggins said. "We're going to continue to learn from all the things that we didn't do well and all the reasons that we didn't win the games that we could have or should have won.
"If you don't learn from that, then you're probably not going to learn. If we don't learn from that then we've probably got the wrong guys.''It's not as if the Mountaineers are just folding against the better teams on their schedule. That's far from the case. West Virginia's five losses all have come by single digits and with only one exception - a game at Missouri - were competitive right to the end. And four of those losses weren't just to solid teams, but excellent ones. Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue were a combined 43-6 going into Saturday night's games.Getting over the hump, though, has been tough."There are just so many little things that kill us,'' Huggins said. "When you have guys that have been around, they do those little things that these guys just haven't done.''Much of that, Huggins believes, can be traced to effort. It's not so much a lack of effort that has hurt the Mountaineers - Huggins continually praises this group for trying hard - but a lack of consistent effort. Coasting for a possession or two or for a defensive series naturally can come back to haunt a team in a game decided by one or two possessions."It's not that they don't want to do those little things. But I think playing hard and playing through things is a learned skill,'' Huggins said. "It's not something that you have or you don't have. I've had a lot of guys that didn't compete when I first got them, but ended up being great competitors.''
Today against William & Mary, the Mountaineers will face a team with some experience. The Tribe starts three seniors and a junior, the best of the group being 6-foot-4 junior Marcus Thornton, a preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association guard who averages 19.3 points. Thornton had 28 points against Rutgers in a game William & Mary won thanks to a 20-0 run to start the second half in Piscataway, N.J.Freshman forward Omar Prewitt, although not a starter, averages 15 points and has been the CAA rookie of the week four times already. Senior guard Brandon Britt is also back after sitting out the first nine games of the season due to a suspension.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.