Three weeks ago, the West Virginia Mountaineers blew out the Missouri Tigers to go to 16-3. West Virginia looked dominant in that game, capable of beating anyone anywhere. Three weeks later, that has all changed.
After losing 4 of the last 6 games, the Mountaineers are now 18-7 and only 6-6 in the Big 12. A team that was a solid 2 seed has now likely dropped to a 4 or 5 seed and is trending downwards.
What has happened to this West Virginia team? The talent, the size and the depth is all there, but their confidence is absolutely shattered. Bob Huggins, legendary coach, one of the greatest to ever do it, in his attempt to make men out of boys, has broken these players down to the point that playing basketball is no longer fun and they have no idea what they can do to please him.
Huggins preaches spending countless hours in the gym, “getting shots up”, but making wide open shots in an empty gym doesn’t get results, evidenced by Jordan McCabe’s performance this season. Effort is not the problem with this team. Huggins will grumble and complain in his post games about how the players are “different” now and how they don’t practice like they used to, but this incredible decline has far more to do with West Virginia’s offensive strategy and the players’ complete lack of confidence.
Jordan McCabe is beaten down and he’s broken. He’s an amazing young man, extremely talented and he wants to win, but he is incapable of making Bob Huggins happy. Any hint of doing what he did in high school – being creative and making fancy (sometimes bad) passes means an immediate trip to the bench. Huggins recruited McCabe and knew exactly who he was, but now he wants him to be an entirely different player.
When McCabe was given the freedom to make mistakes without immediately getting pulled at the end of last season – because there was no one playing behind him – he shined. He was just the leader that the Mountaineers need(ed) and the team responded with several surprising wins at the end of a miserable season.
Although Huggins recruited two of the best scorers in the JUCO ranks, both Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil have wilted under the heat of Huggins’ substitution patterns. One of the most challenging things for a basketball player to do is come off the bench, ice cold, and be expected to score immediately and consistently. Sherman and McNeil have not been given the opportunity to showcase their full abilities because if they miss a shot or don’t execute Huggins’ offense exactly as he wants it, they are sat on the bench for the remainder of the game.
While Huggins has been extraordinarily successful during his outstanding career, there is no other coach in the history of basketball that has expressed their frustration and anger towards players more openly than him. Certain players respond to his tough love and become men, but unfortunately this generation of players is far more likely to be boys, to crumble and cave under his pressure, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing with the West Virginia Mountaineers right now.