WVU basketball: Cleveland State brings 12-0 record to Morgantown
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bob Huggins has thus far this season spent a lot of time talking about how this West Virginia team is not like his first three. He mentions the losses of Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith to graduation and Devin Ebanks to the NBA Draft and what that's meant to the way the remaining team plays.
Of those leftovers, Huggins said Sunday forward John Flowers plays in a way that reminds the WVU coach of "what we used to be."
So, no, Huggins does not recognize the Mountaineers. He instead sees ducks.
"I never duck hunt, but they tell me ducks come in and you shoot at some of them and miss and they fly out," Huggins said. "Well, they go off and go to sleep and they forgot what happened the day before. So they come back in and you get to shoot them again.
"Ducks just can't remember from one day to the next and I've got some guys who are a lot like ducks. They can't remember what happened from one day to the next."
This wasn't just a manifestation of one day's frustration. He'd seen his team forget things it had worked on in practice leading up to Sunday's 64-61 victory against Duquesne, but he'd also see that pattern play out previously in the 7-2 start to the season.
He's tried different tactics for different problems. He's kicked guys out of practice and kept them from dressing for games. He's altered starting lineups the past three games and changed playing time along the way.
"We've got some guys who just aren't committed to being very good," Huggins said. "As long as it's easy, they're in. Our commitment to excellence is non-existent. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of guys coming in who don't work hard. If you don't come in and work hard, you don't play."
The Mountaineers (7-2) play host to an opponent at 2 p.m. Saturday whose commitment cannot be questioned. Cleveland State leads the nation in wins and realized a preseason goal to start the season 12-0. The Vikings lost at home to WVU last season, 80-78, on a buzzer-beater by Butler.
They're 5-0 on the road and allow opponents to score 59 points per game and shoot 37.6 percent from the floor. Norris Cole averages 21.3 points per game and shoots 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Trevon Harmon averaged 14.2 points and shoots 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Mountaineers have won 33 consecutive games in the Coliseum in December and 33 straight at home against non-conference teams.
Huggins is short on solutions for his side entering the game.
"If you asked me most years, I'd probably be able to give you an intelligent answer, but with these guys, I have no idea," Huggins said.
"Every day is a new day."
The players are finding difficulty on the floor and the bench. Casey Mitchell was averaging 21.7 points the first seven games. He's totaled eight in the past two. Deniz Kilicli has battled trouble with fouls and confidence and can't inspire Huggins enough to keep him in the game.
Kevin Jones is averaging 12.6 points per game, but shooting 44.1 percent from the floor. He was eight points higher last year and had 18 more offensive rebounds through nine games last season than he does this year.
WVU was fortunate to get contributions from John Flowers, Cam Thoroughman in his first career start and Jonnie West off the bench against Duquesne, but there hasn't been a wealth of support or enthusiasm in other tough spots.
"This is the first time that when I'm sitting on the bench no one is clapping or anything," said Flowers, who is starting full-time for the first time in his career. "It's just dead. The old teams, when I was on the bench, I was getting hyped up, standing up and clapping. Everyone was. We need to get back to that. I think it's very important to just be ready to play. We have to support our teammates on the bench."
On the whole, WVU hasn't been all bad. The team has scored 77.6 points per game and ranks No. 57 among 336 Division I-A teams in scoring offense and No. 56 in scoring margin (plus-11.9). The Mountaineers are No. 34 in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and No. 11 in 3-point percentage defense (25.9).
It's the consistency and efficiency in effort from players who have not yet taken to new responsibilities that's bothered Huggins. The Mountaineers follow this past off week with Saturday's game, the Dec. 22 exhibition against NAIA's top-ranked Walsh College and then the Big East opener a week later against St. John's.
"You do this 29 years and you see just about everything," Huggins said. "You just think that when you get to this level, when you know that you're going to play in the Big East with six or seven teams in the top 25, four in the top 10, you better be prepared to win. The truth is we don't have a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans. We have guys who are going to have to work their tails off to be good. The reality is to this point we haven't had that."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.