Huggins Demands More of Mountaineers
Huggins looked like he was ready to sit down and pop in his favorite DVD. If he decided to watch West Virginia's 69-50 dismantling of the Bulls again, he might want to skip the first half -- he obviously would not like what he saw.
"USF shot  percent in the first half," Huggins told FanHouse afterward in the Sun Dome. "People don't shoot 50 percent against us historically."
Even after improving to 13-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big East, Huggins sounded like the nation's most displeased coach. At least, the nation's most displeased coach of a team ranked in the Associated Press' Top 10 poll. Since opening the season 11-0, the 10th-ranked Mountaineers are only 2-2 in their past four games -- a fact not lost on Huggins.
"The way we've been playing the last four or five games, I don't know how the heck we could worry about who we're playing," Huggins said. "We haven't played very well. ... We're just trying to get it going."
Stepping into a hallway after his post-game press conference, Huggins cut to the chase.
"We haven't played worth a crap," he said. "We haven't made any shots."
The shots will start to fall at some point, right, he was asked?
"What do we do until then?" Huggins said. "That's all good for you. That's not good for me."
Back in October, sitting inside Madison Square Garden at the Big East's basketball media day, Huggins talked about his team's incredible versatility.
This was, in his estimation, the most versatile team he's ever coached. "It's not close to the most talented, not even close," he said before the season. "But it's the most versatile."
Huggins was asked what's better: being more versatile or having more talent? "Ask me in March," Huggins joked.
Huggins said he still doesn't know what will be better in the long run. Nearing the one-third mark of the Big East race, Huggins said his team isn't as good as it should be. Teams should be experiencing more trouble with the multiple looks the Mountaineers can throw at defenses -- and offenses -- but Huggins says opponents have had it too easy.
"It should be [frustrating], but it hasn't been because we haven't done a very good job," Huggins said. "We've been terrible on defense. For as good as we should be, we've been terrible."
Terrible pretty much summed up the first 12 minutes for the Mountaineers. Lowly USF (10-6, 0-4 Big East) took a 23-12 lead before West Virginia reeled off 12 consecutive points to grab a 24-23 lead.
At the half, the Bulls, who entered the game shooting 45 percent from the field for the season, had hit 57 percent and only trailed 32-30.
"I really wasn't that worried," WVU senior guard Da'Sean Butler said. "If the lead would have got to 25 [points] or something, I would have been all right -- that's kind of stretching it. I knew we would come out and play defense in the second half."
Did they ever.
The Bulls were held to 16.1 percent shooting in the second half. USF had more turnovers (six) than made field goals (five-of-31) and missed all 14 3-pointers as the Mountaineers cruised.
While WVU eventually pulled away -- it was so lopsided late in the game that when Huggins was trying to get his reserves in the game, he finally had to get the attention of official Mike Kitts, who promptly blew his whistle to stop play to bend down and tie a shoe that didn't need to be tied -- the Mountaineers know it will only get tougher. WVU's next four Big East home games: Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Villanova. And that doesn't include a visit from non-conference foe Ohio State.
"Our season started off pretty well," sophomore forward Devin Ebanks said. "Two losses that we could have prevented. But we got over the hump and came out with a good win today."
Ebanks is one of four returning starters, along with Butler, Darryl Bryant and Wellington Smith, from last year's 23-win team. The Mountaineers also added Casey Mitchell, last year's national junior college player of the year so there's good reason Huggins is expecting a lot from his club this season.
Butler leads the team with a 16.2 scoring average, followed by sophomore forward Kevin Jones (15.8 points, 7.9 rebounds), Ebanks (12 points, eight rebounds) and Bryant (9.4 points).
Ebanks said the Mountaineers' versatility makes it more difficult on other teams.
"It makes it harder on other teams," said Ebanks, who led WVU with 17 points and 11 rebounds against USF. "We can defend. We got guys that can penetrate, guys that can shoot. It makes it very hard on some teams.
"It's just a matter of having confidence and doing a lot of different things. We're all pretty big and long and athletic, they really don't know what to expect."
Butler said the Mountaineers have several players that can play multiple positions.
"I feel that's good for us," Butler said. "We've got guys for us that can play two to three to four positions. You got guys like [6-foot-7 junior forward] John Flowers that can play from the two to the five and guard from the two to the five. And [6-2 guard] Joe Mazzulla can pretty much guard one through five, anyway.
"It's good to have that versatility. It really gives other teams problems because they don't know who exactly who will be guarding you. We've got a lot of guys like 6-7, 6-6."
Butler said he experiences first-hand how frustrating that is during the Mountaineers' practices.
"It happens to us in practice all the time," Butler said. "You get frustrated. You think you have someone small on you and you have a mismatch and then the mismatch from you. It happens to us every day in practice."
Huggins knows it's still a long road until March arrives and the real madness begins. So he'll continue to demand improvement from a Top 10 team, that in his mind, should be playing much better right now.
"We have to keep getting better that's all," Huggins said. "I don't know what else to do."
Contact FanHouse reporter Brett McMurphy at firstname.lastname@example.org