MORGANTOWN - Early in West Virginia's morning basketball matchup with Kent State, there were jokes cracked. With a 10 a.m. start because of ESPN's 24-hour marathon, one wondered where John Hughes, who produced the "Breakfast Club," could be spotted.
Coffee was the drink of the day. The announcer started with, "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the WVU Coliseum."
Of course, after the Golden Flashes outscored the Mountaineers 42-27 in the second half and won 70-60, the obvious joke surfaced: Too bad nobody woke up West Virginia's team.
No member of the Mountaineer team, however, was laughing on Tuesday. Not after losing to Division II Northern Kentucky team in an exhibition, defeating Oral Roberts by seven points and losing by 10 to Kent State - all at home. WVU has one of the nation's toughest schedules lined up, and the team needs to experience a serious growth spurt if it expects to compete for a fifth straight NCAA berth.
WVU coach Bob Huggins is trying to be hopeful.
"We'll fix it," he said. "I just can't fix everything at once. I told you I would fix the rebounding and I put a much greater emphasis on rebounding the basketball. We outrebounded them 46 to 31, and that's a good [Kent] team and they have good athletes.
"Turnovers are a little harder to fix. Now, rebounding and defense ... Defense you have to know what you are doing and rebounding, more than anything, is effort-related. And we just had to crank up the effort."
There were many reasons for the loss on Tuesday. First and foremost was the poor play of guard Truck Bryant, a senior, who had one of the worst halves of basketball ever seen by these eyes in the Coliseum. He was (again) out of control in the lane, his ball handling was poor and his shooting was off. A miserable day for the kid with the bright smile.
But there were other reasons. Misguided newcomers were out of position. There was poor free-throw shooting at 16-of-28. Seventeen turnovers. And in the second half, WVU simply couldn't handle Kent's offensive attack. No matter if Huggins called for man-to-man defense, a 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone, the Mountaineers were dissected.
Credit Kent, certainly. Good team. But if the Mountaineers can't defeat Northern Kentucky or Kent at home, that doesn't bode well after the team is finished with upcoming opponents like Alcorn and Morehead State.
WVU big man Deniz Kilicli certainly wasn't smiling and didn't see any humor in Tuesday afternoon. After shooting 3-of-10 from the floor (his hook shot has vanished), yet grabbing 15 rebounds, he sat slumped in an interview session.
"Kent State is not a bad team," he said. "But it's not a Big East team."
"I can point to 25 reasons [for the loss]. But it comes down to one thing: If we don't compete, we lose every game. Division II, Division III, street ball ... you lose everything if you don't compete."
He was distraught, and understandably so, after experiencing success the past three seasons. Kilicli hopes for a turnaround. He hopes the newcomers now understand they have to compete on every play.
"I hope so," he said, "because [today in practice] they will. We practice from 4 [p.m.] until 7. Then they will. And if they still don't get it, they won't have any legs. They won't be able to walk out of here. That's what's going to happen."
Kilicli was referring to Huggins' tough practices and dreaded treadmill for those making mistakes.