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Early Thoughts on West Virginia

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Time to put JustSC on our rear view mirrors.  The Bruins have a pretty interesting (and a very tough) non conference game this Saturday. I believe they left LA yesterday for West Virginia as they get to take on one of the country's best coached team on Saturday.

I am sure many of you remember Coach Beilein's Mountaineers team, which beat the Bruins at Pauley last year (I don't believe the Bruins have a lost a game since that loss). You can bet AA remembers that game. That was the last game I believe he was held to single digits, as he scored just 4 points against the Mountaineers at Pauley. There were stories that AA was so distraught over that loss that after the game he snuck back into Pauley to get in extra practice.

Bruins didn't have much of a chance in that game until they made a desperate come back attempt in second half. It was too little too late. Gansey and Pittsnogle's team was simply too much for Ben Howland's Bruins, which was still in the process of learning how to win big games. Well things have changed. Since that game Bruins have gone undefeated at Pauley with a 37-5 over all record. On the other side Gansey and Pittsnogle are gone from Morgantown. Yet Coach Beilein has the Mountaineers primed for a bid in the Big Dance as he is getting the most out of a new core of leaders.

Interestingly though Mountaineers are coming off a loss. And it came against a team, which is pretty much the Big East version UCLA Bruins aka Pittsburgh Panthers. Ben Howland's former protégé, the current Pitt Head Coach Dixon took his number 9 ranked Panthers, who play their version of "Ben Ball," went into Morgantown on Wednesday, and pounded a West Virginia team that might have been looking ahead to Saturday.

From Sportsline on the key to Panthers (and perhaps Bruins) beating the Mountaineers:

John Beilein is considered one of the best coaches in college basketball, but there comes a time when all the bells and whistles lose out to a talent gap that's unbroachable.

For the first time this season, that was the case for West Virginia, and it came against Pitt on Wednesday. The Mountaineers had lost four games before meeting the Panthers, but this was the first defeat to come in Morgantown.
West Virginia added new elements to its offense in the hopes of befuddling the Panthers, to no avail.

That exposed the Achilles' heel of the Mountaineers, which is generally true of all of Beilein's West Virginia teams. They never seem to be able to rebound, because their big men tend to drift outside, far away from the big men on other teams.

Usually, the team compensates by working the ball tirelessly to secure open shots while avoiding turnovers. Doing that mitigates the possessions lost to missed rebounding opportunities, and West Virginia wins by shooting a high percentage and forcing more turnovers than it commits.

But an opponent that has both size on the interior and the diligence to defend for the entire 35 seconds on the shot clock on the perimeter can hamstring the Mountaineers by taking away the high-percentage shot.
Well our Ben Ball warriors will have a very good chance of winning this game if they come out and play the same intense defense Panthers deployed on Wednesday. This means they can't afford to give up easy lay ups and some open looks they gave up during early mins of the game against Trojans last night. It's easier to recover from that kind of hole against a team on our home court, but I am not sure they will be able to get away with that kind early defensive lapses on road.

West Virginia offense is predicated around setting up for wide open shots. They fire lots of those 3 points bombs (and connect at a pretty healthy rate). To give some perspective Bruins have only one player who has taken more than 100 3 point shots. It's AA. He has taken 136 shots, connecting on 55 of them (40%). Shipp is next with 81 attempts, connecting at a paltry 30% rate. DC is our best 3 points shooter (32 of 62, 52%). Roll has 71 shots (35%).  In contrast, at least two Mountaineers have taken more than 100 shots from beyond the 3 point line. Frank Young (6'5, 210 Senior Fwd), who is leading the team with 14.5 points a game, has launched 167 3 pointers, connecting in 72 of them. Then there is 6'6 Soph. F Alex Ruoff, who has launched 125 bombs from the outside connecting in 43 of those attempts.  They have others on their roster who don't shy away from long distance either.

So the Bruins are going to have a huge task at their hands in locking up their perimeter defense. And the focus is really going to be on Shipp. Shipp against played really relaxed defense early on. And I wouldn't be surprised if Shipp's defense costs us one of these games. In fact my concern from Southern Cal game is why Westbrook didn't get much time in the second half (was he even in?). Westbrook when he comes in is always on attack mode not only on offense, but he is also tenacious on defense. If Shipp is not stepping up early on Saturday, I hope Coach Howland doesn't waste any time in going to Westbrook and Roll.

It will be interesting to see how Mata's availability and AA2's improvement impact this game. Mata was out of this game last game due to injury and I think AA2 has come pretty far along from at this point last season. He is lot more confident and aggressive inside. Bruins did have Hollins against West Virginia, but the proverbial light switch still had not gone on for Ryan at that point last year yet. Mountaineers do start 7'0 Rob Portman at Center. But Beilien went away from him early on Wednesday night as he tried to beat the Panthers with a smaller lineup. Look for Bruins to do the same thing on Saturday as they try to overpower the Mountaineers around the board.

This is not an easy game by any means. I have been worried about this game the whole season. Those guys are going to be fired up. They are not going to get chances like this to beat up on a number 2 team, which happens to be the best college basketball school in America. So they are going to have the emotion on their side.

The key once again will be defense. If the Bruins come out and play disciplined team defense, and exercise patience on offense (hopefully it doesn't take DC 10-12 mins to calm his game down) they will have a chance to keep this mid season Ben Ball momentum rolling towards a strong finish.