WASHINGTON DC – West Virginia’s slow start to Big East play wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of talent or ability.
The issue was focus, attention to detail, and — simply put — doing what Bob Huggins was asking them to do.
If you’re a coach, and your team isn’t listening to or being receptive to your coaching, how do you combat that? Well, if you are Bob Huggins, you start giving your players pop quizzes on the scouting reports.
“Our attention to detail wasn’t very good,” Huggins told reporters after the game. “You put a test in there and you kind of figure out who is paying attention and who isn’t paying attention.”
And while the tests have been in place for the past three game, on Saturday the effect was finally visible. West Virginia played their best game of the season against Georgetown, getting 28 points from Casey Mitchell to carry them to a 65-59 win at the Verizon Center. Kevin Jones added 15 points, but more importantly he had five of his eight rebounds on the offensive end as the ‘Eers dominated the glass, posting a 44.1% OR% and a 81.0 DR%.
“This is the best we’ve played, without a doubt,” Huggins said. “This is the best we’ve shared the ball, its certainly the best we’ve defended. Its the best we’ve rebounded the ball.”
“I emphasize [rebounding] everyday, its just taken a while. We’re not very big. We don’t jump very good. So we have to team rebound, and I thought we did a better job of team rebounding.”
As well as West Virginia played, the story of this game will no doubt end up being Georgetown’s 1-3 start in the Big East.
We’ve all seen this movie before. In 2009, Georgetown started the season 10-1 and opened Big East play with a win on the road against then-No. 2 UConn. Everyone started talking about the Georgetown team led by a bunch of talented freshmen and sophomores named Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman. But the Hoyas collapsed, losing 15 of their last 21 games and getting bounced out of the NIT in the first round. Last year, Georgetown’s season was a roller coaster. They beat Duke, they lost to South Florida. They beat Villanova, they lost to Rutgers. They beat Syracuse to make the Big East Tournament finals (where, ironically, they lost to West Virginia) before getting knocked out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Ohio.
And now, after being dubbed the best team in the Big East by more people than just me, Georgetown’s back court has ceased to produce. Chris Wright was 3-13 from the field with five turnovers today. Austin Freeman managed to take just eight shots from the field and didn’t score until there were fifteen minutes left in the game. Jason Clark played great, going for 16 points on 7-10 shooting and making a number of big plays defensively, but he had two costly turnovers late.
Its been a trend. The Big Three combined for just twenty points against St. John’s. Wright and Clark were awful against Notre Dame, and Austin Freeman, who had 21 points, did most of his damage with the game already out of reach.
“We’re getting the same shots, they just aren’t going in right now,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said after the game. “Couple that with the things we have to improve and get better on.”
Its not the only problem that Georgetown has. They’ve been getting killed on the glass of late, but anyone that knows anything about the Hoyas expected that coming into the season. Look, I like Julian Vaughn and Nate Lubick and Henry Sims, but that isn’t a front line that will strike fear into Penn, let alone West Virginia.
The strength of this team is their back court and their back court’s ability to execute offensively. Simply put, this team has just not been executing, especially during crucial moments in the game. Today, Wright missed two wide open jumpers from the top of the key that could have tied the game or given Georgetown the lead midway through the second half. Georgetown had three possessions in the last two minutes where they were down three points. All three ended up in a turnover. Their final possession of the game, down by four points with twenty seconds left, also ended in a turnover.
“Its us. Its about us,” Thompson said.
Georgetown can take solace in the fact that they still have a full season in front of them. This back court is too good to continue to struggle like they have.
But the road doesn’t get any smoother, as the Pitt Panthers come to town on Wednesday.
“The good thing is we’re four games into an 18 game season,” Thompson said. “The bad news is that we’ve lost three of those four games. This is the Big East. No game gets any easier.”
Huggins reiterated the same sentiment.
“People get all giddy about beating this team or that team,” he said. “But then all of a sudden you end up losing three or four in a row. Its a hard, hard league. Its hard. We came out here two years ago, we’re playing three freshmen and we came here and won. I mean, I was giddy. To come in here and win with three freshmen, wow. I go out and sit down on the bus. I got my Jimmy John’s sandwich there, I’m eating my Jimmy John’s. They come out and drop about 12 tapes on my chair. I say ‘What’s this? I want to relax for a bit.’ They said ‘Coach, we got Pitt on Monday.’ They were No. 2 in the country.”
“That’s what this league is. You go from one really hard game to another really hard game. Sometimes you go from one really hard game to a harder game. Its brutal, and what you have to be careful of is your guys thinking that there are teams in this league that can’t beat you. Everybody in this league can.”
Did you order the Jimmy John’s today?
“No, I gotta go recruit. At least I knew coming in this time.”
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.