WVU basketball: Huggins has experience returning
MORGANTOWN - The biggest difference for Bob Huggins as he prepares for the 2012-13 basketball season that informally began with Tuesday night's 95-53 win against Glenville State is that there aren't too many differences from the 2011-12 team.
These Mountaineers return eight players from last year's team. One was a junior college transfer last season and four were part of a five-freshman class. Six of the 13 players on scholarship last season were in their first year in the program. Two of the 13 sat out after transferring from Division I colleges.
Huggins was asking for more than half of that team's active roster to go 19-14 overall, 9-9 in the Big East and qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season.
"What happened was it's not like we were bringing in a couple new guys to fit them in there," Huggins said. "We were bringing in a bunch of them and trying to fit them in there. There was something going on everywhere. You were fixing this and that stuff was going on over there. Then you'd fix that stuff and this was going on over here."
Five of those first-year players are in their second year in the program and Huggins counts the two transfers as returning players. Four of them started against the Pioneers - sophomores Jabarie Hinds at guard and Keaton Miles at forward, sophomore Juwan Staten, a transfer from Dayton, at point guard and junior Aaric Murray, a transfer from La Salle, at center. WVU's fifth starter for the Coliseum crowd of 5,208 was its most experienced player, senior Deniz Kilicli.
And yet Huggins was somewhat upset with the performance.
"I just didn't think we competed," he said. "I thought we did at first and then just kind of stopped competing. How hard is it to run the floor when supposedly you're one of the premier athletes in the country playing basketball at a high level?"
The Mountaineers were bound to be rusty, though. They worked through a variety of zones and pressures from Glenville State early. Huggins used a timeout 90 seconds in, played 10 players in the first 10 minutes and all 13 scholarship players, including freshman Volodymyr Gerun, in the opening 15 minutes.
The Mountaineers managed to get inside shots with Kilicli and second-chance baskets from Murray and Kevin Noreen while defending on the other end. WVU led 15-2 in the middle of the first half and was more composed than troubled.
A year ago, the season began with an exhibition to Northern Kentucky. Huggins wasn't pleased with simply winning a game that doesn't count because in his mind, it really does count.
"I want us to be better than we were last year," he said. "I thought we could get 10, 11 guys and we could play really, really hard and keep subbing guys in and keep people fresh to wear teams down. I don't know that we have that many people."
Kilicli had 19 points and made 8 of 10 shots, but only had three rebounds. Murray had 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Staten had 16 points, six assists, three steals and no turnovers. Gerun, who has to sit out the first six games of the season, finished with 12 points in 12 minutes.
WVU shot 50 percent, but had assists on only 14 of 37 baskets. The Mountaineers committed 13 turnovers and only outrebounded the Pioneers 46-34. They open the season next week at Gonzaga.
"We're going to look at how we didn't run any offense, we're going to look at how we didn't transition down the floor and we're going to look at how we didn't rebound the ball," Huggins said.
The changes could come easier, though, because so many of his players have been through this before.
"It's a lot easier because we have more guys back," Huggins said. "Last year was hard because we had stuff going on everywhere and we couldn't fix everything. I think our guys now have got such a better idea of what we want and what is expected of them that we can kind of, I think, maybe start fine-tuning things better because we're not dealing with so much all at once."
There is even experience in disguise for the Mountaineers. One of the four new players is Matt Humphrey, a senior who transferred from Boston College and who has also played at Oregon. A year ago, Humphrey played for the Eagles in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was second on the team in scoring (10.3 points per game) and 3-point baskets (55) while leading the team in minutes per game (30.3) and steals (34).
Humphrey was the first person off the bench Tuesday. After him was Noreen, a 6 foot, 10 inch sophomore who played seven games as a freshman in 2010-11 before taking a medical redshirt and then 23 games last season before another season-ending injury. He played 12 minutes per game and averaged just 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds, but Huggins valued his wherewithal on the floor. He had eight points and seven rebounds in the exhibition.
"The truth of the matter is we were 15-6 and 5-2 (in the Big East) and Kevin Noreen went down," Huggins said. "Everyone probably looked and thought he only got however many points per game and gave us however many minutes, but we could rest (Kevin Jones) and Deniz.
"We couldn't do that at all without him. I know Deniz at the end of the year had a hard time changing ends of the floor. We didn't have subs. If we can stay healthy, I think we have as good a chance as anybody else."
The glaring negative was perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers were just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half and only Keaton Miles, who was 0-for-7 last season, made one. They finished 1-for-14, though Huggins believes that will be stronger this season than it was last season, when WVU shot an all-time low 29.8 percent.
Freshman Terry Henderson scored more than 3,300 points in high school in Raleigh, N.C., and made 47 percent of his 3-pointers as a senior. Freshman Eron Harris didn't have a senior year quite up to his standards in Indianapolis, but made 37 percent of his 3-point attempts as a junior, when he emerged in the second half of the season.
Huggins said Hinds and Humphrey have shot well in practice and sophomore Aaron Brown was sharp recently before suffering a thumb injury.
"I chalk a lot of it up to shot preparation," said Huggins, who was critical of Hinds and sophomore Gary Browne, the guards who combined for 1-for-11 shooting, one assist and seven turnovers. "I think we'll have to go back and look at the film, but a lot of the ones I looked at, when I looked at their feet, it was terrible. They had no chance to make it. The shot preparation was just awful.
"But one reason shot preparation is awful is because you never know if you're the open guy if they're going to pass you the ball. You should know if you're the open guy they're going to pass you the ball instead of putting their head down and trying to force it through three or four people."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.