By Cam Huffman
Twelve games into the 2013-14 basketball season, it’s difficult to tell whether West Virginia is truly better than the team that went 13-19 a year ago, the first losing season for a WVU squad since 2003.
Some signs point to yes — the Mountaineers have been competitive with some of the better teams in the country, including No. 24 Gonzaga and No. 4 Wisconsin — and head coach Bob Huggins has stuck by his belief that the attitude and work ethic have improved. But to this point, WVU does not own a win against a quality opponent, and it does have at least one bad loss, at Virginia Tech.
WVU (7-5) can overcome all the almosts — a 70-63 loss to the Badgers, an 80-71 loss to Missouri, an 80-76 setback to Gonzaga and a 73-70 defeat against Purdue the last time out a week ago today — with a solid run in what looks to be a very solid Big 12 Conference. But before league play begins at TCU on Jan. 4, there’s one more nonconference test as the Mountaineers face William & Mary (6-4) today in Charleston. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m., and the came will air live on Root Sports television.
“I think you learn from the past,” said Huggins in a Friday teleconference. “I’m a big believer in history. We’re going to continue to learn from all the things that we didn’t do and obviously the reasons that we didn’t win the games that maybe we could’ve, should’ve won. If you don’t learn from that, then you’re probably not going to learn.”
William & Mary should provide at least some resistance. The Tribe was competitive against No. 10 Wichita State last month and picked up a 10-point win over Rutgers. They’ve won five of their last six and are led by junior guard Marcus Thornton, who’s averaging 19.3 points and 2.8 assists per game.
Huggins, though, seems more worried about his own team than the group that will be on the visitors’ bench.
The Mountaineers are scoring points — 81 per game — and guards Eron Harris (19 points per game) and Juwan Staten (16.4 points, 6.3 assists per game) are having big seasons. It’s the little things, though, that have made the Mountaineers an average team instead of a good one.
“I could point to 10 things where if we did a little bit better we’re going to win the game,” said WVU’s legendary head coach. “We give up too many layups. We give up too many straight-line drives It’s not that we haven’t worked on it. It’s not that we haven’t talked about it. We don’t rebound the basketball the way we need to rebound the basketball. We don’t finish it around the goal.
“I think we’re at the point in time when maybe you take the kid gloves off, and now you start treating them like veterans, because they have played 12 games now and they’ve all played.”
One player Huggins said should see an increase in playing time is freshman forward Brandon Watkins, who was the MVP of the win over Marshall with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“He’s got to play,” said Huggins. “He’s earned it. He was behind (freshmen Devin Williams and Nathan Adrian) when he started, and he’s probably made more progress than anybody on our team. He makes a difference around the goal, and I think eventually he’s going to be able to score it around the goal.”
Watkins’ increased minutes could be aided by some decreased time by others. Huggins gave his players a few days off to celebrate Christmas with their families, and he was not happy with how some of them handled the situation.
“There were some guys who didn’t do anything (during the break),” he said. “You’ll be able to tell that by their minutes on Sunday.”
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.