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Where Does WVU Go From Here?

January 17, 2010

MORGANTOWN - It was interesting, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins' take on Saturday's 72-71 loss to Syracuse on Saturday.

Usually kicking and screaming after his team allows an opponent to shoot 58 percent, Huggins offered this thought, among others, after the game: ''You know what guys, we make a couple shots, everybody is in here happy. We didn't make any shots.''

True, but there is a bigger reality here.

''The reality is, we rely on three sophomores a bunch,'' Huggins said.

No, bigger.

Is there a chance this West Virginia team, which started No. 8 in the country, is starting to look like the last West Virginia team that began a season ranked No. 8 in the land?

Anyone remember the 2008 football team?

OK, perhaps that's unfair, considering this basketball season, for the most part, is still in diapers, and the football guys rebounded to finish in the Top 25 after a tough start.

Still, a valiant comeback from 10 points down in the last minute against Syracuse on Saturday notwithstanding, Huggins' guys have to be asking themselves one important question today.

Who have we beaten?

After Saturday's home loss to the Orange, Ole Miss remains the only ranked team the Mountaineers have defeated. And the Rebels, who were ranked No. 15 at the time, have since dipped all the way out and made their way back into the bottom five. And after Saturday's overtime loss to Tennessee they're sure to exit again.

When the lights have been at their brightest - at No. 4 Purdue, at Notre Dame, vs. Syracuse - West Virginia has gotten caught in the glare.

That's not what championship-caliber teams do.

''We've only had one game where we've actually beat a team by more than 15 points (in conference),'' WVU forward Da'Sean Butler said.

That is what championship-caliber teams do.

''We need more games like that,'' Butler said. ''We need to come out more focused.''

Is it tough to focus amid the glare? Are these guys struggling with the high expectations?

''You'll have to ask them,'' Huggins said. ''I'm not.''

Yeah. We knew that.

Outside forces don't make a bit of difference, according to Butler.

''If we're ranked, we're ranked,'' Butler said with a shrug. ''As much as people try to make us say it or make us think about it, it's not that big of a deal. Pretty much three out of the four years I've been here we haven't really been ranked or stayed ranked, so it doesn't really matter to me. We end up winning games anyway.''

Not lately.

Since starting the season 11-0, the Mountaineers are 2-3 in their last five, and a couple of impressive trends were disturbed Saturday.

''We have two losses in the league,'' said freshman guard Dalton Pepper, who scored a career-best 15 points. ''We just need to get back to where we need to be. We know we're talented enough. Sometimes we don't play our hardest, and that's why we get the loss.''

They could use the fact that they rallied from 10 down in the final 1:25 to get within one and had a shot, albeit a long one, to beat the Orange as some sort of silver lining.

But Butler says they won't.

''That's nice to say and everything - 'we came back, and gave it a nice try' - but at this point, we need to stop playing catch up and actually take a lead. You really shouldn't depend on desperation shots to win games.''

Butler is 2-for-4 on those this season, by the way.

It'll be interesting to see where the Mountaineers go from here. Marshall's up next in Charleston, then Ohio State and CBS are in town Saturday.

And they're bringing the bright lights.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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