WVU basketball: Scoring key to West Virginia's hot start
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The season is too young to make too much of West Virginia's 4-1 start, but there is nevertheless motivation to treat something about West Virginia as fact.
If the Mountaineers can make jump shots and score points, they can win a lot of games. If shooting and scoring is an issue, winning is in doubt.
How long they can continue like this - No. 26 nationally and second in the Big 12 in scoring, No. 32 overall and No. 4 in the conference in field goal percentage - is unknown, though answers should come this week in the Cancun Classic.
The competition improves and that's notable. WVU has played one team from a power conference and it is the lone loss. The Mountaineers shot just 35.6 percent against Virginia Tech and lost by five points in a game they led by 17 in the first half.
But in four wins against teams from the Northeastern Conference, Atlantic 10, Southern Conference and Big South, and WVU has shot 56, 58.9, 56.3 and 49.2 percent and made six, 10, 10 and 10 3-pointers.
Last season, the Mountaineers shot 50 percent or better seven times in 32 games and made 10 or more 3s five times.
"We have more guys who can make shots," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "It's really pretty simple. You look like a good offensive coach whenever the ball goes in. When it doesn't go in, you don't look so good."
The Mountaineers added a pair of shooters in their recruiting class. Junior college transfer Remi Dibo is shooting 40 percent (12 for 30) and freshman Nathan Adrian 47.4 percent (9 for 19) from 3-point range. Terry Henderson shot 40 percent from behind the line last season, the only player at or above that percentage.
Henderson, who's been slowed by a right shin injury, is 5 for 12 this season. Eron Harris is 14 for 29 and Gary Browne is second in the Big 12 at 7 for 12. Point guard Juwan Staten is 1 for 2, but he, Harris and Henderson are consistently making long 2-point jump shots.
Adrian and Dibo are new, and the returning players who could struggle with shots and points last season are both relieved and inspired.
"I think it's more that we have confidence," Harris said. "Huggs went out and recruited some guys who can make shots. They know they're shot-makers and he lets them know that he has confidence in them.
"We've all got confidence in each other to where if the shot goes up, we all pretty much think it's going in."
Perhaps improbably, the Mountaineers have two of the top three scorers in the Big 12 in Harris (20.4 points per game) and Staten (19.2), and Staten (7.6) leads the conference in assists.
"They are two tremendous guards that could be the top two at their position in the country, in terms of how they complement each other," Presbyterian Coach Gregg Nibert said.
Staten, Browne, Harris and Henderson combine to average 56.7 points, and eight players have scored in double figures. Yet the Mountaineers aren't solely about shooting and scoring. Six players have made a 3-pointer, but six also average at least an assist a game.
"We pass the ball this year," Huggins said. "It's a lot easier for guys to run when they think they're going to get the ball because they ran rather than running down there and standing while some guy is dribbling and shooting it behind the backboard and doing those kinds of crazy plays. I think we play so much better together and so much more unselfishly."
Averaging 88.8 points per game is one thing for WVU, and it might not hold, but averaging 62 shots per game is another matter and something the Mountaineers want to sustain and probably even increase. They're playing faster and taking more shots, based in large part to the play of their guards, and it's giving them seven more shots per game and seven more opportunities to get points that have been difficult to come by in the past.
"We're running the floor a lot more this year," Harris said. "We get the rebound and we're gone. Last year, we'd get the rebound, hold it and walk it up. This year, we're going to run. We're going to run offense and we've got a lot of threats from 3."
Against undistinguished competition, the Mountaineers have had success against a variety of defenses. Mount St. Mary's is a pressing team that wouldn't press. Presbyterian designed its defense to stop Staten and Harris - and they were 7-for-10 and 7-for-15, respectively. In between, the list of players has made layups and free throws, but also 3-pointers and jumpers to beat zones and man-to-man defense.
"This is definitely what I pictured," Staten said. "I thought we had great shooters in Eron, Terry and Gary and I knew Nate was a great shooter and Remi would make outside shots. We have people who can score, so I knew those were guys I was going to have to look for on the regular.
"We're just spreading the court and driving people crazy, and that's pretty much been the game plan. We pass the ball and make them guard us and when they get too spread out, we're going to drive it at the rim. If they sink too many guys on the person with the ball, we want to make them pay for that, which is what we've been doing."
WVU's should find its best competition in Cancun for the next stage of the Cancun Classic that began with the home wins against Georgia Southern and Presbyterian - both by 33 points. WVU plays Old Dominion at 6 p.m. Tuesday on CBS Sports. Wisconsin and Saint Louis are on the other side of the bracket for the winner and the loser for Wednesday's championship and consolation games, which will also be televised by CBS Sports Network.
"My hat's off to them," Nibert said. "I think they'll be nationally ranked sooner rather than later."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.