During an interview with Clark Kellogg last January, Huggins reminisced about a remark made by former Louisville head coach Denny Crum. Crum – who led Louisville to two NCAA titles and six Final Fours – was asked what it took to win a national championship.
“You have to be lucky and you can’t be unlucky,” Crum responded. He then looked over at Huggins and named him the unluckiest guy he knows.
Crum was right. To a large degree, Huggins has proven to be one of the most unlucky coaches in college basketball. Nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame, Huggins shares rare air with college basketball’s elite as the 3rd active winningest head coach. Yet despite all the success and accolades, Huggins has fallen victim to a handful of “bad breaks” that can be blamed for hindering his attempts at a national title.
During the 1999-2000 season, Cincinnati center and future No. 1 overall draft pick Kenyon Martin broke his leg during a Conference USA tournament game against St. Louis. Naturally, Martin missed the 2000 NCAA Tournament and the Bearcats were bounced in the second round.
In 2010, it was West Virginia forward De’Sean Butler’s leg that derailed yet another national title attempt for Huggins. Butler tore his ACL midway through the second half of the national semifinal game against Duke and the Mountaineers went on to lose by 21 points.
Injuries have seemingly always played a role in the narrative of Huggins’ career, but that’s not the case this season. In his 11th season as the head coach at West Virginia, the health of his team won’t be the downfall of the 7th ranked Mountaineers.
As expected, it’s the on-court issues that will keep West Virginia and Bob Huggins from hoisting their first ever national championship. Luckily, unlike injuries, these issues can be cleaned up before March Madness ensues.
If the Mountaineers can find solutions for the following three glaring issues, they may very well find themselves securing one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament come March and secure the elusive championship Huggins deserves.
More specifically, West Virginia needs to hit open shots. In its losses, West Virginia shoots 36% from the field compared to making 42% of its shots in winning efforts. The pressure defense that West Virginia employs is built to wear down its opponents and create more offensive opportunities for the Mountaineers. That doesn’t always work and when it doesn’t, West Virginia needs to learn how to score more efficiently in its halfcourt sets. And, no, Jevon Carter can’t be “the go-to-guy”every time the Mountaineers need a basket. Sagaba Konate can be a player Huggins runs his offense through, but it will take him staying out of foul trouble to do so. Konate has established a reputable post game and now that Esa Ahmad has returned, those two should demand more touches in the frontcourt.
Closing Out Games
This may be the most surprising flaw of a Bob Huggins coached team. Not very often does West Virginia fall into the trap of complacency but in 3 out of the 4 losses this season, the Mountaineers led by double digits at some point during the game. Most noticeably, West Virginia surrendered a 13 point at home against Kansas with a little over 11 minutes remaining. Championship teams don’t make a habit of losing and especially not after gaining a double-digit lead.
Esa Ahmad of Old
Last season’s second-leading scorer has looked like the fifth best player for the Mountaineers. Ahmad needs regain his composure and become the Esa we fell in love with last year. Apart from his decent showing against Texas Tech, Ahmad has disappeared from the stat sheet for West Virginia. If Bob Huggins expects this team to make a deep NCAA tournament run, Ahmad needs to be more aggressive when he has the ball.