After promising starts to season, Texas and West Virginia have turned into puzzling teams

AUSTIN, Texas — Armed with one of the worst 3-point defenses in the Big 12, West Virginia will walk into the Erwin Center at 9 p.m. today to face a Texas team that leads the Big 12 with 352 attempts from behind the arc.

If only this matchup was that simple.

Statistics alone can’t define where the Mountaineers (8-5, 0-1 Big 12) are these days, especially after missing out on an opportunity Wednesday to take down the 11th-ranked team in the country.

Instead, 22 turnovers and 14 missed free throws threw away the chance to beat Texas Tech and grab some early momentum in conference play.

In his latest analogy, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins likened his players’ lack of commitment to the game to reasons for losing a girlfriend.

“Basketball is kind of like having a girlfriend,” Huggins began. “If you don’t pay attention to her, she’s probably going to drift off on you. I look at basketball that way. Basketball has to be something you love and you have to be committed to and you have to spend time with. When you don’t do that, basketball gets mad.”

Yes, we may be at that time when only well-phrased basketball metaphors become newsworthy, because the Mountaineers’ struggles have been told to no end.

“It’s about commitment,” Huggins continued. “If I put a ball down there on the floor in the gym, the majority of the people who walk through the gym are going to pick it up and shoot it. It’s a fun game, but to be great at it, you have to be committed.”

What was once a season of promise as the preseason No. 13 team in the country has wilted behind a rash of nagging injuries, inexperienced guards and perhaps a lack of overall commitment from players or a lack of awareness from players in who they actually are.

“You have to fill your role,” Huggins said. “That’s a misnomer that these guys get from all the idiots out there, like the fools who have mock [NBA] drafts and the general idiots who just want something from them rather than being able to help them with something.”

Texas (9-4, 1-0), too, has been something of a puzzle this season.

What began with tons of potential after wins against Arkansas, Purdue and North Carolina has turned into frustrations after home losses against Radford and Virginia Commonwealth.

“The biggest thing for us going into the new year, and we talked about this a lot as a team, is just consistency,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said following the Longhorns’ 67-47 victory against Kansas State on Wednesday. “That’s an area where we need to continue to grow.”

Like Huggins, Smart has tinkered with lineup changes, hoping to find the right chemistry.

The latest changes has brought inserting 6-foot-11 sophomore Jaxson Hayes into the starting lineup, as well as junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long. The result? Hayes nearly had a double-double against the Wildcats with nine points and 11 rebounds and Mitrou-Long is getting an opportunity to play like he did two seasons ago when he averaged 15 points a game playing for Mount St. Mary’s.

They will be joined by sophomore point guard Matt Coleman (10 ppg) and shooting guard Kerwin Roach II, who is having his best season as a senior, averaging 13.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Dylan Osetkowski, a 6-9, 250-pound power forward, rounds out the starting five averaging 9.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

“That group of five right now, that’s who will start Saturday,” Smart said.

It’s also the Mountaineers’ first true road game of the season, in what will be a cramped traveling schedule over the next few days.

West Virginia will return early Sunday morning after a late tip-off in time to return to second–semester classes that begin Monday.

After a practice Tuesday, the team will travel to Manhattan, Kan. for a second straight road game against Kansas State.

“The travel is brutal,” Huggins said. “I didn’t want to complain and bitch about it, because of recruiting, but my God, it’s rough.”

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