West Virginia Mountaineers
Offensive Identity: Waves and waves of 6’7” athletes bombard the shores and unrelenting water can have a dramatic impact.
After a seaside hamlet braces for the oncoming wave, weary of its resolute supremacy, there comes a period of relaxation right after the water harmlessly splashes ashore. In that moment the following wave pounds down upon the unsuspecting house, obliterating the once firm foundations.
West Virginia’s forwards rebound like the subsequent waves. As the defense gleefully witnesses a missed shot clang off the rim, a WVU player or two sidles around the rooted center. The leaping, reaching forward corrals the miss. The moment at which the possession seemed over became the most susceptible, vulnerable moment.
Against great rebounding teams, the Mountaineers hammer the offensive glass. Perennial rebounding power Pitt yielded 17 offensive boards to high-flying, infuriatingly-active West Virginia forwards.
The entire country boasts only three teams better on the offensive glass. In the last four minutes at Pitt, where possessions are at a premium, WVU collected three offensive rebounds while allowing not one for Panthers.
When your team gets three fewer chances down the stretch, chance does not favor you.
Da’Sean Butler plays big when it matters. His college career straddles two distinct coaching styles. With coach John Bellein’s team, Butler looked like the only great athlete. He is now surrounded by talents like Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, and Deniz Kilicli.
Butler just passed Wil Robinson to move into third on the WVU all-time scoring list. Players left in his wake include Rod Thorn, Alex Ruoff, and the fabled Kevin Pittsnogle. He should finish his career with the unimaginable 100 double-figure games. Almost 75% of the times Butler steps onto the floor he registers double figures. Amazing.
Late-game free throw misses reveal a chink in the West Virginia armor. The ramifications of missing repeated last-minute free throws are obvious. Closing out lesser teams becomes immeasurably more difficult when your fouled players continuously miss critical FTs.
“We missed a bunch of free throws,” said Coach Bob Huggins. “I thought that was the difference in the Villanova game.”
The fact that beaten teams continue to be revived is unforgivable. NCAA Tournament teams with Final Four dreams cannot expect to beat teams twice. Make your free throws and advance.
The Mountaineers have great length, starting four players 6’7” or taller, each of them with imposing pterodactyl-like wingspans.
Huggins throws the predominantly antiquated 1-3-1 at opponents quite a bit. The fact that the man-to-man expert plays any zone at all seems sacrilegious. It does show that coaches at the top of their profession are willing to listen to new ideas and implement new, fresh approaches.
Much of the defensive possessions are strictly man-to-man, though. Since the Mountaineers run out four forwards at a time someone gets caught defending a smaller player. In these instances Ebanks or John Flowers give the ball-handler a little extra cushion.
Cushion can mean open jumpers, but not against West Virginia. The team’s length affects every part of the game. Rising to release a jump shot over a defender with 7-foot wingspan is nearly impossible. Just focusing on clearing the arms becomes all-consuming.
Like driving out of a parking garage, the waving gate about to come crashing down upon your head supersedes any future driving obstacles. In much the same way, shooting over an outstretched limb from Ebanks, Flowers or Cam Throughman becomes a daunting task. How can the rim become the eye’s focus when the arm extends above your head?
The rebounding prowess of the West Virginia collective deserves a tighter focus. This team is a better rebounding team than the last four NCAA National Champions. Almost 43% of their missed shots are rebounded by the Mountaineers themselves.
Take a second. Read that again. West Virginia, the offensive team rebounds the ball three out of every seven times they miss. It’s mind-blowing.