WVU to Battle No. 3 Michigan
West Virginia managed to overcome its shooting woes in recent wins over Marshall and Virginia Tech, but poor shooting once again reared its ugly head Tuesday night in Pittsburgh when the Mountaineers were unable to hold on to a 15-point second half lead in a 60-56 loss to Duquesne at Consol Energy Center.
WVU shot just 33.3 percent from the floor for the game, including 22.2 percent from 3-point range against the Dukes. On the other end of the floor, Duquesne got most of its points essentially two ways – on dribble drives to the basket or in transition off of missed West Virginia shots.
Presently, WVU’s two leading scorers are both shooting right around the 40 percent mark from the floor and only one of WVU’s top six scorers is making at least half of his field goal attempts. Of the four players with at least 10 3-point field goal tries so far this year, none are converting them at a 30-percent clip.
In fact, nearly a third of West Virginia’s 3-point field goals (10 out of 34) have come in one game against Virginia Tech, which coincidentally, is the Mountaineers’ best victory so far this season.
Where West Virginia coach Bob Huggins can go for consistent offense is still a question that needs to be answered as the Mountaineers prepare for Saturday night’s meeting against third-ranked Michigan in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Just one player - sophomore guard Juwan Staten – is averaging double digits at 10.6 points per game while five others are averaging between 9.9 points and 6.3 points per game. Compounding matters will be the unorthodox 1-3-1 zone defense the Wolverines will throw at West Virginia on Saturday night.
“Conceptually, we have an idea of what’s supposed to happen but we will work on it, obviously,” said Huggins.
Michigan, led by former West Virginia coach John Beilein, is off to its best start since 1989 when the Wolverines won its only national championship. This year, the Wolverines already have earned quality non-conference wins over Pitt, Kansas State, NC State and Arkansas, but also possess just one true road victory at Bradley. Michigan’s other nine games have been played at either Chrisler Arena or on neutral floors.
Still, Beilein’s team is being touted as a possible Final Four contender despite having a rotation that includes four freshmen among his top seven scorers and a sophomore in Trey Burke who leads the team with an average of 17.1 points per game.
“We’re playing five freshmen more than any team in the country and it’s very rare for those types of young men to sustain any type of success. And we’re trying every day to make sure they understand prosperity and to continue to get better,” said Beilein.
Huggins said he has faced Beilein’s teams a couple of times in the past when Huggins coached at Cincinnati.
“We go way back and I’ve got great respect for him and what he does,” said Huggins of Beilein. “He’s won everywhere he’s been, which when you started in some of the places John started – and to a degree where I started – you’ve got to be a good coach to continue to win at every level and at every step, and John certainly has been able to do that.
“And he gets the most out of his guys, I don’t think there is any doubt about that,” Huggins added. “They play to their fullest potential.”
West Virginia, meanwhile, has played just twice at the Coliseum in eight games so far this year while facing one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the country. Three of the Mountaineers’ four losses have come against RPI top 100 teams with the fourth being against Duquesne, which cracked the top 150 after Tuesday night’s win over WVU.
The tough early schedule will eventually pay dividends, particularly when West Virginia starts Big 12 play next month.
“It’s that time of year right now when we’re all getting ready for conference play and to play a team like West Virginia, you are truly getting ready for high-caliber conference play,” said Beilein.
In addition to a difficult early season slate, Huggins is also still trying to blend in transfers and a pair of freshmen that have already combined to start 20 games so far this year. Eight different players have earned at least one start and three – Juwan Staten, Deniz Kilicli and Jabarie Hinds - have started all eight games.
“Obviously we thought we were going to be better at this time than what we’ve been and I think everybody thought that,” said Huggins. “We’re sitting here with four losses in eight games and every game becomes important for us if we want to continue to play in the NCAA tournament.”
West Virginia has made the NCAA tournament all five seasons Huggins has been in Morgantown and seven out of the last eight seasons dating back to the Beilein years.
On the other side of the scorer’s table, Beilein has led Michigan to three NCAA tournament appearances in his five campaigns there and has made five total trips to the tournament in the last eight years when adding the last three seasons he spent at West Virginia.
“I think we both get our young men that we get to coach to reach their potential and really maximize their talent,” said Beilein. “When you are the coach at Walsh or Akron, and you are the coach at LeMoyne and Canisius, you have to do that or you’re not going to win. As a result, we took that same philosophy when we did have opportunities at Cincinnati and West Virginia and at West Virginia and Michigan and just put application to them.
“That’s where I think we are very similar,” Beilein continued. “How we do that may be different. I don’t know because I’ve never seen Bobby’s team practice, but I hope that we would both agree that we get the most out of our teams.”
Saturday’s game will tip off at 8 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
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