MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – One of WVU’s strengths coming into this season was supposed to be its shooting, through seven games this has not been the case.
This season WVU has the second-worst team shooting percentage (43%) ahead of only Kansas State (40.8%). West Virginia has also made the second-fewest number of three-pointers this season (34) only one ahead of Texas Tech (33), a team that has only played four games.
Following the team’s 86-81 victory over Rhode Island Sunday, head coach Bob Huggins said the team has enough shooters to be successful.
“You can’t name a team that hasn’t gone through cold spells. During the course of a season, everybody’s going to have games they just can’t make any,” Huggins said. “We’re hoping that we’ve got enough guys that can make shots that we can sub them in and they’ll make shots. That hasn’t happened yet, but I think it can.”
After last season West Virginia supplemented the shooters it had returning with two junior college players who had prolific scoring seasons a year ago. To this point, both the returners and the newcomers have struggled to hit shots. Returners Jordan McCabe and Brandon Knapper and newcomers Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil have all struggled shooting the ball this season.
McCabe’s shooting percentage has fallen from 32.2% last season to 27.3% (6-22) this year. His three-point shooting has cratered to just 8.3% (1-12) from 33.8% last season. Knapper has gone from 35.2% last year to 32.1% (9-28)and from 31.6% from three to just 20% (3-15).
Sherman (25.9) and McNeil (29.7) led the junior college ranks in scoring last season and it was expected that they would not be able to shoot as well moving to WVU. Sherman especially has struggled to make shots this season.
McNeil has been the best shooting of this bunch this season, shooting 39.3% (11-28) and 40% from three (40%). Those numbers are only slightly down from what he did at Sinclair Community College last year, 49.5% and 43.1%.
At Collins College last season Sherman shot 49% from the floor and 39.9% from three. This season his numbers are down to 24.1% (7-29) and 16.7% (2-12).
One commonality between all four of these players is that, with how deep this year’s WVU team is, they are all playing fewer minutes than last season. Huggins believes that all his shooters will be fine as long as he can get them enough playing time.
“The good thing about playing close games is you get better, I think it makes you better, the bad thing is you can’t play other people as much as you want to play them,” Huggins said. “Taz is going to be fine…he’s just got to start making shots, and he will, I don’t have any doubt he and Sean are both going to make shots. Jordan’s going to start making shots, Jordan hadn’t made shots.”
Huggins said he thinks those guys have to get in-game experience and cannot fix their shooting just by simply practicing.
“It’s a whole lot different, 10 guys running around out there banging into you and guys holding you and not letting you go where you want and stepping in front of you and chucking you,” Huggins said.
Huggins also said he thinks his team will shoot better if they can spread their opponents out more.
“The biggest thing is our spacing isn’t very good and it’s hard to run anything when you don’t have spacing,” Huggins explained. “We play against other people and they have us spread and that’s why they can drive it on us and we go play and it looks like the start of a roller derby match, it’s just a whole bunch of people banging into each other and falling down. We’ve got to spread them out and it’s harder for us to spread them out when we play two bigs quite frankly.”
Huggins has shown a willingness to play with a smaller lineup, using Emmitt Matthews Jr. at the four, playing three guards and only having one true forward, but he wants to always have two bigs on the floor for defense and rebounding purposes.
The Mountaineers will have almost a full week off before their next game against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 7.