Blowing the Bubble

I don’t really know what you say after a game like that. WVU spent most of the second half in solid control before inexplicably falling apart down the stretch. They couldn’t break the press consistently, couldn’t hit shots, and couldn’t hold off a late Louisville rally that they acted like they knew was coming. I would even argue that they were distracted by the refs at the expense of the focus it takes to execute at the end of big games. More on that later. But the simple fact is they got beat at the free throw line (WVU: 17/27, UL: 13/15) and the three point line (WVU: 7/22, UL: 10/22). I’d love to add this to the list of games refs have cost the Mountaineers, but that simply isn’t the case.

(Quick aside, if you want a excellent recap of the game from go here. To commiserate with a desolate fan keep reading.)

I don’t know what to do with Deniz, I really don’t. On he hand he can be an absolutely dominant force in the post, moving his feet amazingly well for a man of his size and presenting a HUGE matchup problem for folks. On the other he is an abysmal defender and terrible passer. The effectiveness and production of Kevin Jones becomes all the more amazing when you consider he’s playing opposite a guy who is often a black hole on offense.

It was great to see Kilicli add another skillset to his mercurial package: “coming mentally unglued.” His T towards the end of the first half was damaging in that it spoiled what had been a stellar few minutes of asketball for him. And it planted him on the bench for a long stretch of the second half, making it difficult for him to get back on track when he did re-enter the game (scored 15 before the T and 2 after). He may complain about refs, but he could very easily have been assessed a second T (and automatic expulsion) after tossing the ball in the air AGAIN in frustration following what was pretty clearly a charge late in the second half. At the very least he exacerbated what became a full blown mental collapse – not something you want to see from one of your three upperclassmen.

I realize Deniz is frustrated by inconsistent officiating but welcome to life as a big man. It’s just a part of the game that he needs to learn to deal with. Throw it on the pile of things he needs to improve upon. But given that he’s got just over a year of eligabiltiy left, he probably needs to go to work on that pile. Its mounting.

Kevin Jones was very Kevin Jones-ey again, killing it on the offensive glass, getting big buckets, filling up the stat sheet and basically demonstrating why there can be no debate that he is the conference player of the year. Honestly I don’t see how any of his teammates (or guys refereeing his games for that matter) can look him in the eye. The guy is having one of the more brilliant individual seasons in the history of WVU basketball and getting ZERO help. It’s sad. But watching KJ is one of my greatest joys in a quarter century of Mountaineer fandom so I’ll be damned if I’ll give up on this group just yet and neither should you.

(Quick note on KJ: he’s got a chance to become just the third player to lead the Big East in points and rebounds in the same season. The other two were Walter Berry of St John’s and Troy Murphy of Notre Dame. They both won the league’s Player Of The Year award. Remember that when some player not named Kevin Jones is strolling across that stage to accept the award. The Big East has proven itself nothing if not petty. *cough* *Geno Smith* *cough*)

There’s really nothing to say about Truck that hasn’t been said. At least today he made good plays to offset his miscues for the most part. Unfortunately on a WVU team so thin on experience they don’t need average efforts from one of the only two seniors on the roster in the heat of coference play, they need great efforts. Obviously I want Truck to do well because that usually means WVU is winning and I like that, but at this point I want to see him do well to cement his legacy as a Mountaineer. He’s made a ton of huge shots and was playing at a first team all-conference clip for the first half of the season and I’d hate for all the good he’s done to get lost in the frustration with his play down the stretch of his final season.

OK. Now we’ll get to the refs. First I’ll say unequivocally that they did NOT cost WVU this game. The Mountaineers were in total control before allowing Louisville to score 13 of the final 16 points. Refs didn’t do that, crappy basketball did that. But I do think frustration with officials is having a cumulative effect on this team. It’s clearly in the back (or front) of their minds and is even affecting the way Huggins is coaching them. When he called one of the precious few timeouts left at the 1:30 mark he didn’t use the time to calm down his squad or be sure they knew exactly what he wanted to run, instead he spent it yelling at an official who had just missed an obvious shove of Truck that led to a UL steal and subsequent basket. I don’t know that he does that a month ago and I sure don’t think it helped this team not come unglued. So there’s that.

Second, if anyone listened to his post-game comments the frustration in his voice had actual physical texture. You could feel it. With refs, with his team, with everything that has happened seemingly since that overtime win over Cincinnati. When he was asked about the officiating, he paused for a long, long time.

Long time.

About that long.

To the point that I wondered if he’d gotten up and left. He then proceeded to nip at the edges of the issue, saying just enough to make it clear he wasn’t happy but not so much that it was going to land him in hot water. You can get get a sense for his mood with a collection of tweets from Patrick Southern:

First of all Huggins is nothing if not a very smart man. There’s a reason that he’s been pretty muted in his criticism of officiating this season. He knows he’ll be seeing a lot of the same faces over and over in conference play (for instance one of the members of the crew from the infamous Syracuse game worked the game today). Furthermore it’s usually a losing proposition for coaches to call out refs. You come off winey and just piss of people you don’t really need to piss off (refs, conference commissioners, your athletic director). There’s always a lot of “uh-oh Huggs is gonna go off” talk after controversial finishes but anyone who actually watches those post-game interviews knows thats just not his style.

But wow did he sound close to it today. His tone seemed to suggest a calm demeanor, but I heard something else in those pregnant pauses and sighs. It was the tone of a man at the end of his rope who was treading carefully, knowing that if he allowed his anger to spill over and get the better of him he might not be able to reign it back in. Might say something he’d REALLY regret. It was a tone most of us recognize from adolescence, when we’ve finally gone too far and our parents are deciding whether or not to hurl us through a wall. I’m guessing most of you reading know that tone, too.

I feel for Huggs. At least with his players he has the treadmill, and the bench, and good old fashioned public butt-chewings in his arsenal. You can tell their up and down play has taken an emotional toll on him but at least he has some level of recourse.

Not so with the zebras. Once again key calls went against his team at key moments and there’s nothing he can do about it. Once again he had to address the matter in the post game interview. My only question is how much of the blame for this run of dubious late-game luck Huggins assigns to the surrounding circumstances of conference realignment and conspiracy theories. The long pauses seem to suggest he’s got a good idea what he wants to say, just not necessarily the inclination to say it. But as the losses pile up he seems closer and closer to the better angels of his nature losing that battle. I’d be awfully curious as to what he REALLY thinks, but seeing as how that revelation would most likely come only in the wake of more frustrating losses I kinda hope we don’t find out.

So the margin for error got smaller again today and the magic number of 9 or 10 Big East wins to get to the Big Dance that seemed so attainable just two weeks ago became far from a certain proposition. This team has gone from a shoo-in to the inside and now most likely the outside of the bubble. Whether or not they can preserve that delicate film of hope on which their entire season now depends will be determined in the next two weeks. If being a Mountaineer fan has taught me anything it’s that anything can happen: especially when the ‘eers are backed into a corner.

I guess there’s nowhere left to go but up.

One Response to “Blowing the Bubble”

  1. That game still frustrates me. There is just no reason to lose that game. I think the officiating has been terrible at crucial times, but the team needs to overcome that. I just hope we can get it rolling against Pitt.

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