Problems on the point
MORGANTOWN - It's hard to fault them because they've been thrown into a situation that is entirely foreign and asked to perform at a high level under immense pressure.
But if you ask Bob Huggins what his West Virginia basketball team's biggest problems have been of late, the answer is generally always the same - the Mountaineers don't move the ball like they need to move it.
That goes back in great part to Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne, the two players being asked to do something they've never done before.
"Honestly, we've got two guys playing point guard who've never played point guard in their life,'' Huggins said. "Some days they're OK and other days they're not OK.''
On Wednesday night they were not OK, suffering through a miserable night in a 71-44 loss at Notre Dame.
Will they be better tonight when West Virginia (17-11, 7-8 Big East) hosts No. 10 Marquette (23-5, 12-3) in a 9 p.m. game at the Coliseum? Huggins and WVU hope so because the season may ride in the balance.
Losers of six of their last eight games, the Mountaineers desperately need a victory of note to both stop the bleeding and put them back on track to making their fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance. They get that chance with tonight's ESPN-televised game against their second straight streaking opponent.
The Golden Eagles have won 11 of 12 since suffering close back-to-back road losses to No. 9 Georgetown and No. 2 Syracuse in early January. Marquette's only loss since then was at Notre Dame, which after Wednesday's rout of West Virginia has won nine straight overall and 35 of 36 at home.
Marquette also played Wednesday night, beating Rutgers 82-65 at home to remain tied with Notre Dame for second in the Big East.
So how does West Virginia's youth at point guard wear on the Mountaineers? Well, it's not just youth. Not only are Hinds and Browne adjusting to the college game, both were scorers in high school, not distributors.
It showed Wednesday at Notre Dame when things began going badly for West Virginia and neither was able to settle the Mountaineers down and just run the offense. Instead, they tried to make things happen and ended up forcing them.
And it's not the first time this season.
"He doesn't know any better. That's what he did in high school,'' Huggins said of Hinds, who was 1-for-9 shooting against the Irish. "[He thinks,] 'Hey, we're down. I've got to go do something.' I don't know what the school record is for misses. Probably Hot Rod [Hundley] has it. But probably if I'd left him in long enough he'd have had a chance.
"But the kid just doesn't know. He knows, but your instincts take over. That's what he's done his whole life. At one point I was trying to decide whether to let Jabarie go in there and see how many he could miss or get him out. But he's trying to create something.''
When Hinds and Browne aren't playing well and moving the ball, everyone suffers. Kevin Jones is on track to become just the third player in Big East history to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding over a full schedule, but he got only 12 shots against Notre Dame.
Part of that was Notre Dame's defense, but a significant portion was an inability of anyone to get him the ball.
"The truth of the matter is we haven't thrown him the ball when he's open all year,'' Huggins said. "I was watching one of our games and the commentator said, 'Somebody needs to introduce these guys to Kevin Jones.' They forget who he is.''
Still, if Hinds and Browne play well - both now seem to be settled into the starting lineup after Browne spent most of the year coming off the bench - West Virginia has pretty much proven it can play with anyone. The Mountaineers, after all, have solid wins over NCAA tournament locks or potential invitees like Georgetown and Kansas State, and have played right to the wire with Baylor and Syracuse.
The challenge now is to get past the Wednesday loss in a hurry and make something happen.
"They just had it going,'' Jones said of Notre Dame. "It was definitely frustrating, but [opponents] are going to make tough shots sometimes and we have to play through it. We didn't. We kind of gave up at a certain point. And that's not acceptable.''
As for Johnson-Odom, he's actually ahead of Jones in the scoring race when counting league games only, 19.7-19.3. In all games, though, Jones leads by a rather substantial 20.3-18.7.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.