Listless Mountaineers aren't there yet

Deniz Kilicli, right, and West Virginia held on for a 64-61 victory against Duquesne Sunday. AP Photo/John Heller

PITTSBURGH -- Nine games into the season and from the outside, everything looks fine for West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are winning -- they're 7-2 after skating by Duquesne 64-61 on Sunday night. They’re just outside the top 25, positioned to perhaps make their debut this week thanks to some other team’s missteps.

But Bob Huggins feels like his team’s record is little more than smoke and mirrors, a convenient cover-up for a team that in his estimation is sorely lacking.

“We don’t have the commitment it takes to be a good basketball team right now,’’ Huggins said. “We are not committed to doing it.’’

A season ago, Da’Sean Butler all but willed the Mountaineers to the Final Four. The team’s best player also was the team’s best worker, the guy who showed up early to the gym, stayed late and never once took a second off in a game.

To outsiders, he was the last-minute, last-shot hero, but to Huggins and his staff, he was a hero every minute of that entire season. WVU played like Butler played and practiced like he practiced.

Now he is gone and Huggins not only hasn’t found his replacement on the court, but he’s still searching for someone to fill the void off of it.

A lackluster Mountaineer team nearly got caught sleeping against Duquesne. Admitting afterward they had no juice, the Eers trailed by 11 at the break and were in a dogfight until the bitter end against a team likely to finish in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic 10.

“We’re not where we need to be,’’ senior John Flowers said. “We definitely have a lot of talent on this team, but we’ve got to learn to work together. There was no energy on the bench, no clapping, nothing. I’ve never seen that with teams before. We need to show we’re ready to play and that we support our teammates.’’

Huggins typically has a way of getting things out of his players, whether they like the extraction or not. He spent a good bit of time in the locker room postgame, presumably offering some suggestions that might shake the cobwebs.

To count the Mountaineers out would be to assume he can’t do that this time around.

And that would be foolish.

“When you’ve been in this game 29 years, you’ve seen pretty much everything,’’ Huggins said. “But I would have thought that when you’re at this level, in the Big East, with six or seven teams in the top 25, you’d be better prepared to win. We don’t have the mindset yet on this team to be good’’

Yet being the operative word.