WVU basketball: Sophomore class has put Mountaineers in a slump
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Hard as it may be for West Virginia to narrow down all the problems to just a few - and unfair as it might seem to direct the blame to one part of the team - the Mountaineers seem certain this basketball season has been at least compromised by their second-year players.
"We can't run a set because I have guys who have been here - and this is year two - and don't know what they're doing," said Coach Bob Huggins, who recruited the players and vowed to fix it after the season. "It's totally inexcusable. They don't have any idea what they're doing.
"I can't call a set unless I have certain guys on floor who know what they're doing. I can't make substitutions, I can't run a set because we're going to have one guy standing somewhere he's not supposed to stand and screw everything up. I can't run a set after timeouts. It's inexcusable, totally inexcusable."
This has been a slowly developing storyline. Huggins has critiqued his team and made similar points as the Mountaineers have slipped to a 13-14 record and a desperate push to a NIT bid late in the season. Only recently has he specified his sophomore class of guards Gary Browne, Jabarie Hinds and Aaron Brown and forward Keaton Miles and junior college transfer Dominique Rutledge.
Huggins is not alone. Forward Kevin Noreen, arguably the most respected player on the team after seizing a starting job this season with dependability instead of talent, focused on the sophomores.
Noreen, a third-year player who took a medical redshirt in year one, also took blame for not doing more to help them like he said former teammates Cam Thoroughman and Joe Mazzulla did for him.
"I might not be most athletic, but I do know what's going on, and I need to help other guys out," Noreen said. "I remember when I was a freshman ... and I didn't know what was going on. Guys like Cam and Joe took me aside and told me things. But some guys aren't freshmen. This is their second year and they don't know plays.
"That's just not good."
The four sophomores were intended to be a core part of this team.
Hinds averaged 7.4 points per game as a freshman and started all 33 games. He shot 41.9 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent from 3-point range and had 108 assists in 64 turnovers playing point guard for the first time in high school, AAU or college.
He now averages 7.7 points while shooting 34.6 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range.
Hinds has 46 assists and 49 turnovers playing the shooting guard spot, but Huggins is using Hinds five fewer minutes per game and brought him off the bench for the first time against then-No. 2 Kansas.
Browne was intended to back up Hinds and transfer Juwan Staten, but has started in favor of Staten the past few weeks. Browne averages 6.4 points per game, a tenth of a point below what he did as a freshman, and has seen his shooting percentage drop from 43.4 to 32 percent and his 3-point shooting go from 24.4 to 18.9 percent while playing 3.6 fewer minutes per game.
Miles and Brown have devolved into spare parts. Miles actually has better offensive numbers. His scoring has doubled to 2.8 points per game and his shooting is up from 31 to 42.3 percent and he's 6 for 19 from 3-point range after going 0 for 7 as a freshman. Yet Miles, who started 30 of 32 games last season, has started just twice and didn't play at all against Baylor. That was one of nine times he played five or fewer minutes. His playing time has dropped from 13.1 minutes per game to 12.3.
Brown, who Huggins said before the start of the season was shooting better from the perimeter than anyone on the team, is just 3 for 10 from 3-point range this season. He was 25 for 64 as a freshman. He played in all but one game last season, but has only played in 15 games this season, including three starts. Brown's scoring is down from 4.2 points per game to 1.4 and he's gone from 15.3 minutes per game to 6.7 - and he's played just 41 minutes in Big 12 play.
Rutledge has slightly improved from 2 to 2.4 points and 2.7 to 2.8 rebounds per game and his 11.5 minutes per game is up from 7.8. Yet he's only shooting 43.6 percent, which is 8.8 points lower than last season, and he's already sat out six games after doing so five times as a junior last year.
"It's kind of like if you've got a job, you're a supervisor and you've got a guy who won't do right and you say, 'You're out,' and you put another guy in and he doesn't do right and you put another guy in and he won't do right, so you put another guy in and he doesn't do right and you just kind of throw your hands up and say, 'What am I supposed to do?' " Huggins said. "That's kind of like how I feel."
In truth, Huggins had limited options. Those four were part of the 2011 recruiting class, the first one after the 2010 Final Four appearance. It also included center Pat Forsythe, who transferred to Akron, forward Tommie McCune, who transferred to Oakland and was dismissed from that team last month, as well as junior college forward Dominique Rutledge, who has been serviceable if not significant.
However, that 2011 class followed the 2010 class that lost three players and kept only Noreen. The 2009 class kept senior Deniz Kilicli and guard Casey Mitchell and lost two players. With those losses, Huggins needed the 2011 class to hit, but it was repeating old mistakes.
"We had the Connecticut game won in (WVU's) first game of the Big East Tournament and we just handed it to them," Huggins said. "Same guys. It's the same guys. You say, 'Well, you know, they're sophomores.' Last year we said, 'Well, they're freshmen. They'll get better.' Well, they've got to get better because we have constantly just kind of given the ball to them for unexplained reasons."
The Mountaineers led the Huskies by nine points with 5:01 to go, but lost in overtime. The lead was two points with a little more than two minutes left in regulation, but Browne turned the ball over against a trap on back-to-back possessions and UConn's Shabazz Napier scored twice for the lead.
"I remember the Connecticut game, we were just standing there holding the ball and Napier stole the ball from us twice and ran for layups," Huggins said. "That's kind of unexplainable, but there were a lot of those and a lot of those kinds of things happen now to the same guys they happened to a year ago."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.