The Bottom Line
By Bill Nestor
It’s a blistery cold winter’s evening in Morgantown and West Virginia University basketball fans are just settling in following an unexpected snow that was coupled with howling winds that brought about the cancellation of most high school games in the area.
Hoops fans settled in for a night of exciting Mountaineer basketball as Bob Huggins and the boys were on the road for a huge test against Iowa State. It was a golden opportunity for the Mounties. They could get back on track in the Big 12 and earn some revenge from an earlier loss to the Cyclones. That bitter two-point loss at the coliseum was the first conferences setback for WVU and revenge would be a great motivator for this group.
The stage was set after a first half that left the visitors trailing by just four points. However, a sluggish start to the second half put the Mountaineers in a hole. They could only manage a Juwan Staten jumper in the first 7:02 after the break. During that span Iowa State had built a sixteen-point lead and it proved to be insurmountable. Despite the deficit, WVU would not lay down as they cut the bulge to single digits (9) with four minutes remaining. Another scoring slump ensued with a pair of Staten free throws providing the scoring down the stretch.
In the Big 12 Conference you have to be able to defend and hit big shots in big moments – neither took place on this Saturday. Iowa State was 26 of 46 (56.5%) from the floor while the Mounties were 22 of 58 (37%). The biggest key to this team’s success has been their ability to turn opponents over with their full court pressure. Against Iowa State they had three more turnovers (19-16) and Staten was the only player to find double digits in scoring.
Prior to the first matchup between these squads, the Mountaineers were 14-1, since then they are 5-5. OutA of those five defeats only the first matchup with the Cyclones was close. In losses to Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, and this past Saturday the average margin of loss was 21 points.
What does all of this add up to in the grand scheme of Mountaineer basketball? All of those previously mentioned setbacks were to ranked teams. The five wins where all quality conference wins with one coming against a ranked Oklahoma team. Oh, by the way don’t forget the best start to a season since “the run” in the early stages of the Bob Huggins era. Enough can’t be said for how Huggins has brought together a group of players and made them a cohesive unit that at times has looked like a veteran laden team.
Did WVU fans get spoiled with the impressive start? Were expectations taken to an unfairly high level after the early success? It’s hard to imagine any team with the exception of Kentucky, not going through some version of a slump during the season. It is a marathon and not a sprint and the finish line is the NCAA Tournament. The “Big Dance” is only a few more wins away. Once Huggins gets his team in they are a tough out. The full court press that this team utilizes is hard to crack the first time around and if the parings are right a nice run could be in the cards. So for now just give this crew a little more time to work out the kinks and in the mean time just set back and enjoy the show. Did anyone see that Kansas game by chance? It was a real showstopper!
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!