MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It's hard to say West Virginia's basketball team looks forward to what awaits it.
They're off until Sunday, when they play host to Purdue in front of what figures to be another flimsy crowd. The Boilermakers are from the Big Ten, but they're No. 129 in the RPI and are 8-3 despite playing the nation's 187th most difficult schedule.
Then there's another week without games before the Mountaineers (7-4) play host to William & Mary at the Civic Center, where WVU defeated Marshall by 10 points on Saturday despite trailing most of the game. The Tribe is No. 200 in the RPI and have played the 277th hardest schedule in the country. They'd be WVU's ninth opponent in the first 13 games to be No. 129 or worse in the RPI.
Yet this might be what the Mountaineers need. Big 12 play begins Jan. 4 and despite the dearth of quality opponents thus far, WVU will likely end up playing top-10 schedule because of the strength of the conference. The Big 12 is No. 1 in the conference RPI and gives WVU 10 games in the final 18 against top-100 teams.
Two games in 15 days might not be a bad thing.
"Our problem, because we're so young, is that we can't emphasize everything in practice when we have a few days to prepare for every game," Huggins said. "I think the things we really emphasize we've done a better job at. The things I think we're maybe getting away with we're not emphasizing and they come back and bite us. But we're getting better."
WVU was off Sunday and Tuesday and spent all of Monday's practice on its own strengths and weaknesses. The Mountaineers will begin Purdue preparations today and follow a similar plan next week. Huggins will be careful to make sure practices are geared toward winning the game, but also toward improving the team during an unusual amount of free time.
"I said this in the beginning of the year," Huggins said. "We can be good, but our margin for error is not real big."
Whatever fixes Huggins seeks this week won't be devoted to offense - apart from free-throw shooting, which has been erratic, but is something the team works on daily. The Mountaineers shoot, pass and score better this season. Juwan Staten is an able facilitator and inside scorer and Eron Harris and Terry Henderson are accurate shooters. Freshman Nathan Adrian and junior college transfer Remi Dibo could use practices to get more familiar with what the Mountaineers like to do and Adrian can heal a sprained right ankle.
Those are WVU's perimeter players, though, and the weakness on offense can be found inside, where WVU doesn't have much of a presence in 6-foot-9 freshmen Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins. The Mountaineers have been outscored in the paint in six games and by a total of 22 points. In their losses, the scoring margin in the paint is minus-35. They average 26.5 points per game in the paint, which is less than a third of their scoring.
Staten does his part with drives and layups or, in the case of the Capital Classic, sneaky passes to open teammates at the rim. Huggins has tried to get Williams going in different games while Watkins had played 2 minutes in the two games before his unexpected double-double in 27 minutes against Marshall.
"I think Devin will eventually get there," Huggins said. "He's not there yet, but I think eventually he'll get there."