The West Virginia basketball team is currently 0-2 in the Big East, 8-4 overall, in what is shaping up to be the worst season since 2004. What is the problem?
Well, for starters, we don't pass well or cut well or shoot well in the half court offense. We don't pass well out of the double-team, relocate after entry passes, or screen and move without the basketball, or make the extra pass or rotate the basketball. We don't make good outlet passes or fill the lanes or make the right passes at the right time to the right player in transition. We don't make good decisions when to push the ball and when to slow it down. We struggle executing the high-low game, getting to the foul line, and penetrating and dishing. [Ed. Oh, is that all?]
But, quite honestly, we struggled with all of these things last year, too. Our biggest problems are defense and rebounding.
Last year, WVU allowed 70 points just 10 times in 38 games, including zero times in the 10 game winning streak - that included the Big East Tournament and run to the Final Four - sandwiched between the UConn and Duke losses.
WVU has already allowed 7 of its 12 opponents to score at least 70 points this year. Additionally, WVU was only rebounded 8 times last year. They've already been out rebounded 3 times this year, with a number of others where they just broke even.
Dating back to last season, WVU has lost all 7 games in which it has allowed more than 70 points and been out rebounded. It has happened in 25% of our games this year.
Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, the problems are much easier to identify than the rectify. Improvements were needed and expected from a number of key players, which just hasn't happened.
Here is my evaluation of the players following the first 12 games:
First, the players that, while they aren't lighting the world on fire, aren't the reason we suck.
Kevin Jones - KJ was supposed to step into the role of the "go-to" player this year. Alas, he has not not been able to fulfill the expectations. Though, he is still solid and by far our best offensive re bounder, KJ has struggled with his jump shot this year, and does not seem to have improved his ball handling skills or post skills to the point that he is a 1st Team All Conference performer. Despite his quiet start to the season, he is not the culprit for our problems.
John Flowers - Flowers has shown small improvements every year. Although, he is not great at one particular thing, he is a solid role player, when he can stay on the court and avoid foul trouble. He is the poor man's Da'Sean Butler. He hasn't been sensational, but he has filled his role adequately and is not the culprit for all our problems.
Joe Mazzulla - Much like Flowers, I have no complaints for Mazzulla because he is what we expect him to be. He is generally a good ball distributor, gives premium effort and makes those around him better. Unfortunately, he is not going to give you a lot of points every night. When playing with Flowers and Thoroughman, who are also not going to give you a lot of points every night, a lot of pressure is put on KJ or Mitchell to score points. However, I think he should be starting PG, no questions asked.
Cam Thoroughman - Like everyone else, I've never been a big Cam fan. But, I can not deny that he is going to give effort when he is on the court and he will generally be in the right spot, although his lack of athleticism and basic coordination really hamper his ability to function with the ball in his hands.
Jonnie West - The guy has proven to be a tremendous shooter this year, and he seems to know where to go and what to do. Unfortunately, like Cam, Johnny's body does not allow him to do the things that his mind commands, which translate to very bad defense and rebounding. He's playing this year like he could have started for John Belien as a more consistent shooting, less-douchey version of Patrick "I'll spread my arms and pretend to be an airplane after I make every 4th three pointer" Beilein.
Here are the players that have disappointed, but whose disappointments should not cause a disastrous season.
Dalton Pepper - I thought he could make Ruoffian strides from his freshman to his sophomore years. This has not been the case. He hasn't been a consistent shooter or defender and generally looks lost. He has not advanced like I thought he could.
Danny Jennings - He is a bit of a mystery to me. I did expect much coming into this season because of his clearly limited offensive abilities and struggles to understand the defense, but, quite honestly, his defense can't be worse than Deniz's and his offense can't be worse than Cam's and he is an athletic guy that can rebound....I would really have expected him to get more minutes, to at least crash the glass and give us some athleticism. I wonder how deep in Huggins' doghouse Jennings really is.
Finally, the three players, who I think, have to really figure things out, or we're in for a losing season.
Truck Bryant - A third year starter who plays like a freshman. He has a tendency to lose his dribble while unguarded, stagnate the offense by refusing to pass, and limit his arsenal to three pointers and one-handed, straight-on, running bank shots. I truly believe his injury against Washington allowed WVU to make the final four. Like Mazzulla, he is not a good on ball defender, which is one reason we've had to abandon man to man. Clearly, his has the ability to score - see Marquette - but, he is not a point guard. Truck needs to be isolated to 2-guard and drastically step up his defense, his effort and his desire to involve others at the offensive end.
Casey Mitchell - He has already proven what I suspected all along - he is a big time talent and one of the more fluid and athletic players on the team. Unfortunately, he has also continued to prove that he is uninterested in defense, moving without the ball or creating looks for teammates. His matador defense against Marquette on more than one fast break had steam coming out of my ears, and his disappearing act on offense is sickening. With his ability to shoot and dribble and shoot free throws, he should have the ability to get open looks on back cuts, screens, curls, pump fakes, drives etc., yet, he seemingly is interested only in shooting threes. If he doesn't lose his Schifino-like commitment to the team and defense he will soon be spit out of the bottom of a semi-pro Belorussian league.
Deniz Kilicli - Probably the biggest disappointment of all, though in retrospect, I should have seen it coming. His lack of quickness and understanding on defense and his inability to rebound, to say nothing of his poor recognition of the double team, or the open man, may be the biggest reason WVU is struggling. If you are as slow as Kilicli is, you better have a good feeling for the game, as far as defensive positioning and rebounding. So far, Kilicli's basketball sense has resembled that of Joe Alexander, but without the athleticism to overcome. I don't know what you can do with him, besides play him and hope the light flips on, or sit him completely. So far, Huggins has tried to do both at the same time.