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Mistakes plague West Virginia ahead of Pitt

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Bob Huggins. — WVU PHOTO

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Too much dribbling. Too many turnovers. Too few good shots.

That, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and his players said, is putting a damper on a basketball season that opened up with the Mountaineers ranked No. 13 but has since led to a dismal 5-3 start.

With plenty of excitement revolving around the Backyard Brawl on Saturday when Pitt visits Morgantown, the Mountaineers are just trying to keep things together.

Huggins’ squad lost the season opener, 99-96, in overtime to Buffalo, and hasn’t had much in the way of competition since then. Still, West Virginia has suffered setbacks to Western Kentucky and Florida while topping lower-level opponents Monmouth, Saint Joseph's, Valparaiso, Rider and Youngstown State.

The same problems have hindered West Virginia along the way in the early goings.

Too much dribbling. Too many turnovers. Too few good shots.

West Virginia most recently lost to Florida, 66-56, a game in which the Mountaineers turned the ball over 21 times.

"Our biggest problem is, one, we don't pass it well, and, two, we don't have any idea where we're supposed to go,” Huggins said after the loss to the Gators inside New York’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “It blows my mind how can a guy can be standing wide open, and we can't see him.”

Through eight games, West Virginia averages 15.3 turnovers per game. That’s not turnovers forced either, which the Mountaineers have been known for. That’s West Virginia giving the ball away to opponents.

One more time, for effect: Too much dribbling; too many turnovers; too few good shots.

“We have a tendency to over-dribble. When you’re over-dribbling, you don’t see guys cut. We have guys open, we just miss them,” guard Chase Harler said on the subject. “The main thing is to catch the ball and square up. When we start doing that — looking to pass first instead of dribbling — we’ll start to see open guys and get better shots.”

In three losses this season, West Virginia is shooting just 35.8 percent from the field. Only in the overtime loss did West Virginia make at least 20 field goals among those three defeats. In those games, West Virginia has suffered turnover numbers totaling 19, 22 and 21.

It's tough to win when you combine those numbers, and even tougher to swallow when, in two of those losses, you allow just 63 and 66 points.

“How many times is it going to happen?” Huggins said “It should have (sunk in) when we lost to Buffalo. Normally, we go in and we grind, and we have so many young guys, and we didn’t have Sags or Beetle at the end. But we still lost. They don’t put asterisks on there. We have to get it turned, and the only thing that will get it turned is hard work.”

Pitt, meanwhile, is 7-2 under new head coach Jeff Capel. The Panthers have quality wins over Saint Louis and Duquesne with a close, 69-68 loss at No. 14 Iowa.

The Panthers, too, are looking to bounce back after a disappointing loss, taking one on the chin 71-70 to Niagara last time out.

Defensively, Pitt is forcing teams to turn the ball over an average of 16.7 times per game, scoring 21.4 points off those turnovers in the process.

To get things on the right track, West Virginia will need better play from its heavy hitters — James “Beetle” Bolden, Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad.

All three have vastly underachieved to start the year. Bolden has been battling injuries and has just 18 assists to 13 turnovers; Konate has taken 21 3-pointers already and has 16 turnovers; and Ahmad continues to struggle with consistency while leading the team with 23 turnovers.

“It’s unacceptable. We’ve got to do better,” Ahmad said.

West Virginia doesn’t lack talent, nor does it have depth issues. It’s not physicality or the ability to create.

It’s — you guessed it: Too much dribbling. Too many turnovers. Too few good shots.

“I have a hard time understanding what’s wrong with doing what you are really good at,” Huggins said. “These guys think they can do all these things they can’t do, and they look like fools. Our problem isn’t physical, it’s between our ears. How many balls do we run down from behind? We just can’t get that kind of effort.”

He continued: “We don’t take things serious enough. They watched film, they listened, then they went out and practiced it. These guys sit there, but they can’t be watching. They can’t be. We have to get some guys that have our back, that have the coaching staff’s back, that has the university’s back, the state’s back.”

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