WVU basketball fans have to be yearning for ghosts of Christmases past.
Last year at this time, the Mountaineers were 9-1. (They finished 26-11.) In 2016 at this time, they were 9-1. (They finished 28-9.) In 2015, they were 9-1 and coming off an 86-68 victory over Marshall. (Remember those games? They finished 26-9.) And in 2014 at this time they were – I kid you not – 9-1. (They finished 25-10.)
The last time WVU was not 9-1 at this point was 2013 when it was 7-4 and finished 17-16.
That may prompt an “uh-oh” from Mountaineer fans. But something else did so to me Monday morning.
It was a report from the Mohegan Sun (where I’ve dropped way too much cash in the slots) by the Dominion Post’s Justin Jackson. And, no, I don’t mean the game report of WVU’s 83-70 loss to Rhode Island in the Hall of Fame Holiday Classic.
The response came after reading Jackson’s sidebar addressing the absence of Sagaba Konate, who in his last game looked springy enough to block seven shots against Pitt. Rhode Island didn’t meet the big man because of a reported sore knee. A sore knee that apparently frustrated WVU coach Bob Huggins.
“It’s up to him and his brother when he plays and when he doesn’t play,” Huggins said.
Jackson wrote that “Konate’s older brother Bakary was a senior at Minnesota last season and has been said to be advising Sagaba on his future in professional basketball.”
That spells trouble, especially with Huggins. In case you’re unaware, the man doesn’t enjoy shenanigans. That qualifies as shenanigans.
And you can toss that on the heap of this team’s other problems.
Like the guard play.WVU fans turn their lonely eyes to you, Jevon Carter. In the loss to Rhode Island, Beetle Bolden was 0-for-8 shooting while Chase Harler was 1-of-6. The former is now hitting 38.9 percent of his shots and 36.8 percent of his 3-point tries, while averaging 11 points. He and fellow guard Brandon Knapper both have 21 turnovers. The only Mountaineer with more turnovers is…
Esa Ahmad.Yes, the senior is leading WVU in scoring at 14.8, but he simply must step his game up (have we said this before?) if the Mountaineers are to avoid the 17-16 season of 2013-14. Ahmad has turned the ball over 32 times, which is 11 more than Bolden. Ahmad’s field goal percentage is 47.2 percent.
Ball-handling.“Press Virginia” is no more. Or at least an effective version of it is no more. WVU is turning the ball over an average of 16.3 times a game while turning over opponents 14.1 times a game. That’s a minus-2.2 margin. West Virginia was No. 283 nationally in turnover margin after nine games and fell after Sunday. In points off turnover, opponents are averaging 16, while the Mountaineers are at 14.5.
Shooting.WVU entered the Rhode Island game No. 242 nationally in field goal percentage and fell. The team is now at 42.4 percent. In 3-point shooting, the Mountaineers entered the game at No. 197 and fell. They are now at 32.6 percent.
The lack of newcomer impact. There was plenty of hope entering the season, but check the stats. Of the 13 Mountaineers playing this season (still no Derek Culver; no Trey Doomes), the No. 9 to 12 scoring leader slots belong to the newcomers: Emmitt Matthews, Andrew Gordon, Jordan McCabe and Jermaine Haley. Only walk-on Taevon Horton is scoring less.
Now, is it time to give up on this team? No. Huggins is too good of a coach. Konate still dominates. Perhaps some of Bolden’s problems stem from injuries, which can heal. Perhaps Culver can help. Maybe some of the other newcomers will improve.
But the Big 12 schedule is fast approaching. And WVU needs to trim the uh-ohs before they turn into oh-nos.