MORGANTOWN - Toward the end of West Virginia's 71-66 men's basketball loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh, someone mumbled the words I'm sure many across the Mountain State have uttered this season: "This just isn't a very good basketball team."
After seeing the Panthers pound the Mountaineers for 42 points in the paint, I have to agree. WVU isn't a very good team.
But it is a good team - when you compare the group to those around the country.
Exhibit One was Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who was certainly happy with the victory.
"It was a good win for us against a very good team," he said. "I know [the Mountaineers] have a high RPI. They're experienced. And, again, they're a very good team."
OK, so coaches are apt to over-compliment their opponents. We can agree, I believe, West Virginia is not a very good team. But look at what happened on Monday night. The Mountaineers lost by five to the nation's No. 4 team. The home team entered as a one-point favorite. Had the officials called an apparent backcourt violation on Pittsburgh at one critical point, the outcome could have been different.
Absolutely, give the Panthers (22-2) credit. They were calm. They were lethal. They hit free throws. But more than anything, they exploited the one advantage for which West Virginia coach Bob Huggins couldn't compensate: sheer athletic ability.
Huggins tried - to the point where, afterward, he looked absolutely wrung out. He sat down next to Mountaineer play-by-play man Tony Caridi for the initial post-game interview and simply said, "They outmanned us. We just got outmanned. They physically outmanned us."
Indeed they did. The Mountaineers had no answers for Pitt's inside game. At one point, the Panthers had scored 30 of their 45 points in the paint, and they did so without injured team leader Ashton Gibbs, a catalyst at guard.
In order to consistently bang with the upper-echelon teams, Huggins must go out and recruit quality big men. There's no question about that. He needs to add quality, consistent shooters.
Consider this, though: Even without those ingredients, this WVU team, faced with perhaps the program's toughest schedule ever, still has a chance to make the NCAA tournament.
There are two reasons: defense and Huggins.
West Virginia's team continued it's back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back poor shooting trend. Not since shooting 46 percent in a win against Purdue has this bunch risen above 44.2 percent, and that was accomplished Monday against Pitt. Before that, the high of late was 42.2 versus Cincinnati.
But WVU, in fact, outshot Pitt on Monday by 44.2-44.1 percent.