MORGANTOWN - Even in the good times - and they don't get much better than they are right now - there's been a relatively big problem with West Virginia's game this season.
The Mountaineers can't shoot.
''I keep saying we're going to make them because we shoot it too good,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, ''but after 31 games, probably, we're not going to shoot it too good. They'll all tell you they're good shooters, but statistically, that hasn't been the case.''
The Mountaineers are ranked 181st among 334 teams in field goal percentage at 43 percent. They're 184th in 3-point field goal percentage at 33.6 percent.
Yet, a group of Associated Press writers who cover college basketball thinks West Virginia is the sixth-best team in the country.
''We are what we are,'' WVU forward Kevin Jones said. ''We're a group of hard-playing guys that go out there and rebound and grind out it. Sometimes in our offense, we don't find the open man as much as we should and it just looks a little stagnant, but I think we are definitely better scorers. We have to work on that, knowing our defense is going to carry us. But we have to also score.''
Throughout the Mountaineers three-game run through the Big East Tourney, they didn't score more than 60 points in any game. Only once in the three games did they shoot better than 38 percent. If he said it once, ESPN's Jay Bilas wondered aloud a thousand times: How good would this team be if it could shoot?
''Who could beat them?'' he asked.
Well, in that tournament, no one could.
Huggins says some of those statistics are deceiving.
''The last two games I think we shot 70 percent inside the line against Notre Dame, and I think at least 50 percent inside the line against Georgetown,'' he said. ''I think we have the tendency to sometimes hunt the 3 too much, not that I don't want them to shoot it. I do, but sometimes we hunt the 3 more than we should.''
In those two games, WVU was 35 of 63 on 2-point field goals (56 percent) and 7 of 35 on 3s (20 percent).
''The biggest challenge we have had is making an open shot,'' Huggins said. ''We just haven't shot the ball very well. I was watching the Kansas State game (Saturday) before we went over to the Garden and they asked (K-State coach) Frank Martin what would they do different? He said he'd beg one of those guys to make a shot.
''We are going to guard and we are going to rebound - I think that is obvious. When you beat Georgetown by 14 on the glass with the talent they have, we are making a great effort to rebound the ball. We just haven't made a lot of open shots.''
Huggins had one more theory on all of this, even though they had almost no trouble with it at VMI, the nation's leading team in scoring at 88.6 points per game this season.
''Guys are bigger, stronger, and faster than they've ever been,'' Huggins said. ''The court hasn't gotten any bigger. And the goal hasn't gotten any higher. So people get to the ball faster. They cover more ground because of their length. It's hard to score. It's harder to score than it's ever been.''
So would the coach like to see higher scores from his team's games going forward?
''I hope not,'' he said.''That's not good for us. ''
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com