MORGANTOWN - Basketball is a pretty simple game when it comes right down to it, or so figures Joe Mazzulla.
When asked what he thought was among the reasons for West Virginia seemingly playing better defense of late, the Mountaineer point guard had one of those simple answers.
"I think we're realizing how bad we are on offense,'' Mazzulla said. "And that we have to play defense every game.''
Well, the next of those chances comes tonight. Returning to the Coliseum for the first time in nearly three weeks, West Virginia (4-1) plays Patriot League preseason favorite American University (5-1) at 7 p.m.
West Virginia is scoring a pretty decent 81.0 points per game through five games, significantly better than the 72.4 points the Mountaineers averaged while winning a school-record 31 games a year ago.
But those numbers, for the most part, are deceiving. West Virginia has gotten into a few games where the pace was such that it was impossible not to score. Shooting guard Casey Mitchell has gotten hot and averaged 27.7 points over the last three games.
But for the most part, the Mountaineers have been doing it without running offensive sets. Coach Bob Huggins knows that has to change.
"We really haven't run very good offense,'' Huggins said before practice Tuesday afternoon. "We worked a lot on it [Monday] and we're going to work a lot more on it [Tuesday].''
It's rather odd that the Mountaineers have not been able to run much offense even with Mitchell shooting the ball so well, because that usually spreads the floor and allows more movement and more sets.
But Huggins is quick to point out that it is still early, and even last year - when the Mountaineers were setting the table for a run to their first Final Four in 51 years - the offense might have been even worse at this point.
"We all have a tendency to forget. We remember the Big East tournament run. We remember the NCAA tournament run,'' Huggins said. "We don't remember we almost lost to Cleveland State. We don't remember the struggles that we had early on offensively.
"As the season went on our understanding got better, and it will be with this group, too.''
There have, of course been some extenuating circumstances, especially in Saturday's 82-66 win over VMI in Charleston. In that game, starting point guard Truck Bryant watched the game in street clothes - as did backup center Dan Jennings - because of what Huggins considered attitude problems. Walk-ons Kenny Ross and Craig Carey were playing point guard at times in the first half when Mazzulla got in foul trouble.