The West Virginia Basketball team takes to the floor Thursday night to face the undefeated Missouri Tigers (7-0) at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The game kicks off a crucial four game stretch for the high-scoring Mountaineers.
Missouri and the three games that come after it should give us a better inclination as to just how much this West Virginia (6-2) squad has improved. It certainly isn’t the end-all be-all, but it’ll be a good indicator of what kind of season we can expect.
West Virginia has already lost to Virginia Tech, a game in which they were winning by a landslide, and couldn’t finish. They also fell to a very experienced Wisconsin squad by seven points in the championship game of the Triple Crown Cancun Challenge in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico.
The reason I mention experience with Wisconsin, is to show just how inexperienced this year’s Mountaineer team is. West Virginia doesn’t have one senior on its roster. However, the one thing WVU can do this season, as opposed to last, is put the ball in the basket.
After eight games, the Mountaineers nearly have five players averaging double figures in scoring. Eron Harris leads team at 20.3 points per-game, followed by a much improved Juwan Staten at 16.4, then newcomers Remi Dibo (10.4) and Devin Williams (10.0), and Terry Henderson is almost there at 9 per-game.
Last season, WVU did not have a single player finish the year averaging double figures.
What seems to be an improvement on paper should eventually translate to the floor. The Mountaineers are without a key victory to hang their hat on, so playing the likes of Missouri, Gonzaga, Marshall, and Purdue all in a row should provide them ample opportunities to progress.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins cleaned house for a reason after last year’s disappointment, getting rid of multiple players. It was rather obvious that they couldn’t hit an elephant in the backside with a bass fiddle if they tried. This year’s edition looks to be better, we just can’t say how much better at this point, that’s why these four games are extremely important for setting the tone.
The Big 12 conference has plenty of good teams and West Virginia will have plenty of opportunities to prove that they are NCAA Tournament worthy, but it wouldn’t hurt if they were to beat Missouri and Gonzaga in order to strengthen their resume. I have a feeling this year’s team is going to win their fair share of games, and things aren’t going to be nearly as bad as last season’s 13-win effort.
As I stated earlier, one thing above all that is different about this year’s team is the fact that they actually do have capable scorers. WVU currently sits just outside the top 25 in team scoring average at 85.1 points per-game.
It seems hard to believe, but West Virginia is fourth in the country in three point field goal percentage at .465. Last season they finished the year ranked 275th in the nation in three point percentage at .316. In this statistic alone, we can see some vast improvement, eventually the good shooting turnaround is going to result in more victories.
One area West Virginia must improve on is free throw shooting. If they intend to return to the NCAA Tournament, they have to do better than 248th in the nation, which is where they currently stand. It’s always perplexing when teams shoot poorly from the foul line yet somehow manage to shoot for such a high percentage from three point range.
The Mountaineers did do well from the charity stripe in their last performance against Loyola when they shot 86.4 percent. They’ll need to keep it up if they expect to pick up some key victories this season.
The Loyola victory gave Bob Huggins career win No. 729 to move him into a tie with Jerry Tarkanian and Norm Stewart for 16th place on the NCAA all-time victory list. John Chaney is next on the horizon, only 12 wins away from being passed by Huggins.
We’ll see if the Mountaineers can get him one closer beginning with Missouri.
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