Maybe it’s just be, and maybe it’s because I have at least 10 games left this season, which is, like, a third of the schedule, but it’s not yet over for West Virginia, which went 0-2 last week and fell to No. 21 in the AP poll. Does it look good? No. Might it get worse? Yep. There’s an appetizing debate about whether a team that hasn’t played this poorly or been made to look this bad so far this season can possibly see this stretch extend … or if what’s new is merely the beginning of something that might become familiar over the course of the rest of the season.
I don’t know which one is right, and that’s why I go to Ames and Stillwater and Waco and Lawrence and Kansas City, so on and so forth, but I think I can lean one way or another. I lean toward the latter because I like numbers and believe in the stories they tell. Statistics can be wrong and go wrong, but you at least read and ride the trends until you’re told it’s time to get off and head the other way.
Are we going to hear that announcement?
It just seems like WVU’s offense is getting harder and harder to overcome. The Mountaineers shot 34.5 percent in the first half and 37.8 in the second and continued to misfire from 3-point range — 3 for 10 before halftime and 3 for 13 after. The issues closer to the basket are bigger. They were 16 for 40 on layups or shots in the paint close to the basket. Baylor was 21 for 33.
I know WVU’s lived with that all season. It’s never been a particularly strong shooting team, and it’s on the way to being worse than the past few seasons, including potentially the worst 3-point percentage in school history. I also know WVU believes it can get more turnovers and offensive rebounds to build up a pile of shots that overwhelms the other team. I heard the coach and the players say this again Saturday, say that it didn’t happen and had to happen in order for them to win. But it’s not true: WVU took 66 shots, 15 more than Baylor. The Bears managed 87 points on 51 shots, which is outstanding. There comes a point where you push the talking points to the side and admit the obvious, which was that the Bears are good, played better and looked great.
But what’s curious about that particular point about the offense — the edge in field-goal attempts, ultimately undone by turnovers and missed easy shots — is what it says about the defense.
It also seems naturally occurring variables — film, fatigue, familiarity, the quality of the opposition, etc. — make the defense easier to handle. And if you can control your effort, and thus your defense, and it’s getting harder and harder to summon the same effort, then it might make sense to assume the defense dips. At the least, you saw Baylor and Oklahoma do similar things. Both tried to get the ball in quick, get it back to a ball handler and then get it up to someone getting up the floor. Both looked for early offense and both were rewarded. The Mountaineers want you to take quick shots, but not wide-open quick shots. They want to speed up an opponent and force fast stuff under duress. The Sooners and Bears were doing it comfortably, and both found a way to spread it out, draw the defense and then get it to the player farthest from ball. WVU’s rotations have been slow or absent and the players just aren’t where they’re supposed to be.
Where the Mountaineers are supposed to be, and where they need to be, is on the same page with where they are and want to go. Huggins, of course, believes this is a blip. The players believe in their coach, which is the benefit of having seven first-year players, players who haven’t been through this before, but believe they can open their ears and manage this two-game losing streak.
At the minimum, he has his players believing in and repeating what he said. The odds of winning the Big 12 title took a major hit. Seeding for the NCAA tournament has been compromised, even if only temporarily. Most importantly, this is the first losing streak of the season, and that’s all the players seem concerned with today.
“Let’s fix that first,” WVU guard Daxter Miles said. “We’re not really worried about the RPI or our ranking. We’ve got to get back on track and get back on a winning streak. A two-game losing streak is not something we’re used to.”