One game to go: Unsettled, problem-filled are the Mountaineers
SHEPHERDSTOWN — With only a game with Lehigh left before joining the Big 12 Conference run, West Virginia is anything but a settled and confident crew.
Jacksonville State came from Alabama to show the Mountaineers and their coaches where the holes are, where trouble spots lurk and that personnel worries are still alive.
The Gamecocks lost by two points, but further exposed West Virginia’s needs. And those needs include not enough player continuity, not enough usefulness from the pressure defense, too few reliable scorers, a scarcity of unselfish players and inconsistent minutes from too many faces.
And after Lehigh, a team with a 7-3 record and player-togetherness, there are no more non-conference games until after Texas Tech and others bring about a rising tension and increased intensity to Mountaineer games. It’s not just the youth the Mountaineers bring with them; it’s that the youth radiates so much “me-first” personality that any team improvement comes in inches only, if at all.
Questions abound. Will Sagaba Konate be able to contribute much? Has Esa Ahmad seen a road back to Bob Huggins’ good graces or will he continue to be dragged down by turnovers, unconvincing defense and cruise-control effort?
In the past, West Virginia could shatter the confidence of unsteady teams with their pressure defense. Not this season. None of the seven new faces is particularly adept at applying a tourniquet of pressure, making steals and causing turnovers or clamping any opponent in an individual defensive vise.
There is little evidence of a cohesive offense based on effective passing, enough inside scoring or even points coming from the pressure defense.
A productive half-court offense is made legitimate by a polished point guard. West Virginia does not have an effective passer whose game is fundamentally-sound enough, to help the minimal skills of those around him.
Without much half-court success, the team must rev up the game’s tempo and score points from the mistakes it causes foes with the full-court press.
Making free throws are a necessity. Either claiming more rebounds or at least coming close to any opponent’s total is also very important. West Virginia will need to get 10 more field goal attempts than opponents, to maintain more than a waning hold on an opponent’s jugular.
Intensity has been lacking. In Big 12 games, game-long hustle and individual effort will be needed to beat most anybody that comes along.
Here come the Jayhawks, Sooners and Longhorns. Those three teams and the six others the league sends out to battle, have to be met with intensity and an attitude that any loss will sting and not be easily forgotten.