It’s difficult to criticize the WVU men’s basketball team. At least, if you’re fair-minded.
The Mountaineers, after all, are ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll and No. 18 in the coaches’ poll.
They are 11-5 and defeated No. 13 Texas Tech last Monday before falling to Florida.
Not a bad deal if you’re a WVU fan, right?
Except, yes, there’s something missing. And I’m not writing of Oscar Tshiebwe, who left for Kentucky, or Isaiah Cottrell, who tore his Achilles.
Certainly, those losses didn’t help West Virginia in the long-term, although the Mountaineers’ spacing has been better since Tshiebwe left.
It has to do with something WVU coach Bob Huggins mentioned after the loss to Florida.
“We didn’t play with a lot of aggression,” he said. “I thought in the first half, we made a run where we did. (Then) we have a guy in the corner guarding a guy and the ball almost rolls up his leg. We don’t get it. We have the ball on the floor, and we have guys standing there, and they have two guys diving after it. You’re not going to win like that. This was a hard game, but we are going to play hard games the rest of the way.”
He got that right. On Tuesday, WVU plays at Iowa State. Then the Mountaineers host No. 23 Kansas, visit No. 13 Tech, host No. 9 Oklahoma, play back-to-back against No. 2 Baylor and visit No. 6 Texas before finishing with TCU and Kansas State.
If WVU wants to emerge from that gauntlet in good shape it’s going to need more than aggression. It’s going to need a fire from within. It’s going to need leadership.
We saw some of that from Miles McBride in the recent Tech win. We’ve seen hard work from Derek Culver. But this team needs to exhibit a championship attitude if it’s to reach the lofty goals set before the season.
I mean, look at WVU’s team. It’s loaded with talent. McBride is No. 7 among Big 12 scorers at 15.4 points a game, No. 4 in assists (4.5) and steals (1.8) and No. 1 in assist/turnover ratio (2.7). Culver is No. 1 in rebounding by far (10.3), No. 7 in blocks (1.1) and No. 12 in scoring (14.1).
And keep looking. Sean McNeil is No. 11 in the league in 3-point buckets a game (1.9). Taz Sherman is No. 6 in free throw percentage (84). Jalen Bridges has star potential. Emmitt Matthews, when fully recovered from illness, is solid. Gabe Osabuohien can do his Dennis Rodman impression from time to time.
The cupboard isn’t bare, gang. It just needs what an Olympic torch has: a flame that doesn’t go out.
On Monday, Huggins was asked how to ignite that flame, how to instill that heart.
“I’m not a witch doctor and I’m certainly not a cardiologist,” he said. “At some point in time, I think they maybe ought to get tired of losing these games. A lot of guarding is wanting to. I’ve had guys that maybe weren’t as fundamentally sound as other guys, but they guarded their tails off because they took a lot of pride in it.
“I don’t see a lot of pride. I don’t see anybody getting mad when their man scores… I don’t see anybody upset. They just can’t wait to get it out of bounds and go the other way. That’s not a good thing. It’s got to matter to you.”
He paused before restarting.
“Everybody gets mad when they miss a shot,” Huggins said. “You ought to get mad when your man makes one.”
And, yes, he’s talked to his team about the upcoming schedule.
“I’m very real with them,” Huggins said. “I brought it up to them [Sunday]. I think they understand what’s coming.”
Now we’ll see if they understand what it takes.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.