The West Virginia University men’s basketball team is off and running to a 15-2 start to the season. Coach Bob Huggins has “his” kind of guys and it is proving to be a top tier team that we have come to love. However, the way WVU has won has surprised many. It comes courtesy of the defense that has kept the Mountaineers in 3rd place of the best conference in basketball this year – the Big XII.
Both of the losses, could have – and really, should have – been won. In the LSU game, WVU let a big lead slip away. Most of that had to do with terrible shooting and missed opportunities at the foul line. That game (a 74-73 loss) we shot 34, 29, and 68 percent for field goals, three pointers, and free throws, respectively. Adding fuel to the fire, in the only other loss – to the 17th ranked Iowa State Cyclones – the Mountaineers shot an atrocious 32 percent from the floor, and 24 percent on three pointers.
Despite those tough losses, West Virginia fans can thank their defense, which ranks #1 in the country with 13 steals per game. It has helped the Mountaineers win some of the games that maybe they should have fallen short in.
But, if WVU does not begin to make improvements from the floor, the season could spiral downward. While Tuesday night saw some improvement, when WVU shot 44% from the floor in their 21-point win over OU, they are still currently ranked 232nd in the country for FG percentage. Not a great stat by the 16th/15th ranked team in the country. Think about what would happen if they could, ya know, start making shots!
The Mountaineers schedule continues to be difficult as they are in the midst of a three game stretch against top 20 teams: Iowa State (#17), Oklahoma (#18), and Texas (#20). Last Saturday, WVU fell short to Iowa State, 72-74, dropping the Mountaineers to #16. We had our best performance from our bench to beat Oklahoma on Tuesday evening 86-65. The Mountaineers need to build on the performance from Tuesday night as they face a tough Texas team in Austin come Saturday evening.
Juwan Staten remains the go-to man for WVU. The Big XII POY hopeful has been a huge factor in the success the Mountaineers have encountered. With that being said, WVU has proved that is can roll with the big boys as the “next man up” mantra came into play against TCU. With Staten being out with an illness, the men rallied and knocked off then-undefeated TCU by 11 points. I believe this is a stepping stone for some of the role players and especially the young guys, as they fought through the adversity and prevailed.
Coach Huggins has gotten plenty of players in the game, getting them valuable experience in the early part of the season. In fact, he is playing roughly 10 players per game and has noted he hopes to keep that going throughout the year. This would give the team improved depth, which we saw on display when the bench scored 55 points – a season high – in Tuesday’s win against OU. The experience of the young freshmen Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter will help carry the Mountaineers far beyond this season as they take on more and more of the workload every game.