West Virginia Oklahoma St Basketball

WVU guard Jordan McCabe looks to pass against Oklahoma State on Jan. 6.

The record and rankings paint a pretty rosy picture of just where the No. 12 West Virginia University men’s basketball team stands after 20 games played this season, but the statistics — particularly on offense — tell a different story.

Out of 351 Division I teams, the Mountaineers (16-4, 4-3 Big 12) rank No. 188 in field goal percentage (43.6). WVU sits at No. 318 in 3-point percentage (30.1).

It would be easy to look at those numbers and write it off as simply a case of West Virginia being bad at shooting the ball this season, but remember someone has to pass the ball to those shooters before they can put up a shot. When WVU passes the ball, the results are not good.

Just ask Bob Huggins.

“One thing you can say about me is I don’t lie,” Huggins said Friday. “I told you the first week of practice we can’t pass, and I haven’t changed my opinion. We can’t pass and we can’t make step-in shots.”

West Virginia ranks No. 225 in the country in assists per game (12.7) and No. 282 in turnovers per game (14.6). The Mountaineers have been able to mask these deficiencies with stellar defense and a handful of standout individual performances for the most part, but when it goes bad for WVU, the Mountaineers lose games — as they did Wednesday at Texas Tech and two weeks ago at Kansas State, a team West Virginia gets another crack at Saturday in Morgantown (2 p.m. on ESPN2).

Poor passing is leading to poor shooting for the Mountaineers, and Huggins had the stats to back that up. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket during his time Friday with the media and began reading.

“Uncontested field goals — that’s if a guy is 7 or 8 feet off of you or farther — and we’re 54 for 169 for 32 percent,” Huggins said. “That’s when nobody is guarding you. Catch-and-shoot, which is when you catch it, step into it and shoot it — not off the bounce, just step into it and shoot it — we’re 73 for 243 for 30 percent. Uncontested catch-and-shoots, we’re 22 for 89 for 25 percent.”

So even when the Mountaineers are not being guarded especially well, the shots aren’t falling. A big part of that, Huggins said, comes from poor passes.

“You want to know why we lost four?” Huggins asked. “We can’t shoot.

“A good portion of those statistics is bad passes. If you’ve got to field it off your ankles, you’re not going to make it. If you’ve got to jump to field it and come back down and and get yourself together, you’re probably going to get covered up.”

This West Virginia team has players on the roster Huggins believes can make shots, and he hasn’t wavered on that all season. Players like junior college transfers Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman were brought in specifically to give the Mountaineers more people Huggins’ believes can step up and make a shot when West Virginia needs it.

The veteran coach, currently tied with Adolph Rupp for No. 7 on the all-time wins list, thinks it is still just a matter of time before his shooters start making shots on a much more consistent basis.

Just not until WVU’s passing improves.

“That’s why I keep letting them shoot it,” Huggins said. “Because I think at some point in time they’re going to break out of it.”

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/