WVU basketball: Texas sees itself in WVU
AUSTIN, Texas - Forget the notion that the University of Texas is beyond compare in the Big 12 Conference. West Virginia's first road game as a member of the Big 12 is against a team that has acted and played a lot like the Mountaineers.
The Longhorns are 8-6 and lost their conference opener Saturday in overtime against Baylor. The Mountaineers are 7-6 and also lost their first Big 12 game Saturday to Oklahoma. Both teams are using new and young players.
Both teams have had problems with shooting and scoring. Both teams have the same problem with their rosters.
"You never know who is going to play, you never know who is going to show up," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said.
The words from his counterpart, Rick Barnes, are about the same entering tonight's game at the Frank Erwin Center. The 9 p.m. game will be televised by ESPN2 and feature a Texas team that's the youngest in college basketball.
"Like Bobby," Barnes said, "I don't know what to expect."
His team's top 10 players are freshmen and sophomores. The Longhorns have only two upperclassmen and both seniors are walk-ons who've played a combined six minutes. They're also without arguably their best player. Sophomore guard Myck Kabongo, who averaged 9.6 points per game last season, was suspended the first 23 games this season.
"We're young, but as coaches, we can't accept that," Barnes said. "Sometimes maybe we're unrealistic that way. We do realize it's something they're going through they haven't gone through, but they think they're older than they are. If they think that way, they ought to play like they're older than they are."
WVU starts one senior, two first-year transfers, a freshman and a sophomore. The first player off the bench is usually a sophomore who is followed by a freshman.
The other options are a redshirt sophomore who hasn't stayed healthy through his first two college seasons, a sophomore who played one minute Saturday and a sophomore who's only played in six games. They've also got a first-year transfer who's played one minute the past three games, a junior college senior whose role depends on the opponent and a freshman who was suspended by the NCAA the first six games.
Each has to be mentioned because Huggins has tried virtually everyone and everything.
"I think in the past we've always had seniors step up," Huggins said. "We lost Joe Alexander and everybody said, 'What are you going to do?' Well, Da'Sean Butler stepped up. And then Kevin Jones stepped up after everyone said, 'What are you going to do after Da'Sean?' K.J. did a great job of that.
"I think the problem is we haven't had anybody step up, in all honesty. How many shots did you see K.J. miss from 3 feet?"
The Mountaineers miss a bunch of those and Huggins said they missed 11 such shots in the loss to Oklahoma.
"At the risk of sounding simplistic, it would be nice if we made a shot every once in a while," Huggins said.
The same can be said for the Longhorns. They're shooting 40.6 percent from the floor, which is No. 281 of 345 teams nationally. WVU shoots 39.7 percent, which is No. 303. Texas shoots 30.7 percent from 3-point range while WVU shoots 28.7 percent. That would rank No. 278 and No. 317 if either qualified for the NCAA statistics. Neither team does because both make 4.8 3s per game, shy of the 5 per game a team has to make to be ranked.
WVU scores 69.5 points per game, a little more than the 65 Texas scores per game. WVU makes 24 shots per game. Texas makes 23. Both teams get to the line 23 times per game. On and on it goes, all the way down to the explanations the coaches have for their struggles.
"It goes back to attitude," Barnes said. "We haven't established a consistent attitude where we know everyone is going to do their job every single day, every single outing. There's a lot we have to address and a lot of it is attitude toward understanding details and what goes into winning."
Huggins believes his team ought to be further along in that area. He has nine players who either played or practiced last season and were around to grasp WVU's way.
"We've always missed shots," Huggins said.
The Mountaineers have always found ways around it, but Huggins has seen this team lose track of those ways. WVU allows 67 points per game and opponents are shooting 43 percent from the floor. A year ago WVU allowed 66.5 per game and 44.9 percent shooting, the highs in the five seasons with Huggins.
"When you don't make shots, you've got to find other ways to score," Huggins said. "We've always been very proficient at scoring it off the offensive glass. Obviously, we haven't done that. We've got to do a better job keeping balls alive and finishing around the goal."
Texas has had a greater problem maintaining the ball and getting into offense, where Barnes said his team still has trouble setting screens, making cuts and reading teammates. Without Kabongo and leaning instead on freshman Javan Felix, who averages 6.6 assists per game, the Longhorns rank No. 323 with 16.9 turnovers per game and No. 285 in assist-turnover ratio (minus-2.4).
"We both have programs that have played at the very highest level and there's a standard which we both believe in, regardless of what other people might think," Barnes said. "Bobby is one of the greatest and I know what his expectations are, even though I haven't watched his team a lot. And I know our team right now is not living up to the expectations we expect this program to live up to."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.