Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: West Virginia

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Yesterday’s Butler preview is here and tomorrow we’ll dissect Michigan State.

It's been a dream season for the senior Butler

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): The Mountaineers have experienced mostly smooth sailing thus far in the NCAA Tournament, facing three double-digit seeds and then maintaining a comfortable lead during the second half in their regional final bout with top seed Kentucky. It was a driving layup from offensively challenged Joe Mazzulla that extended the West Virginia lead to 11 and forced a John Calipari timeout midway through the second half when the Mountaineer diehards could see the Final Four in their sights. Mazzulla led the team in scoring with 17 points, extremely impressive for a kid that hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game all season.

Advantage Area: West Virginia is one of the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to offense, defense and rebounding. The Mountaineers rank #12 in offensive efficiency, #10 in defensive efficiency and #2 in offensive rebounding percentage. Bob Huggins runs an offense that is largely dependent on running cuts to the rim and methodically wearing down an opponent for 40 minutes rather than dribble penetration, a reason why West Virginia often lets inferior teams hang around for 30 minutes before pulling away. They also boast the best late-game assassin in college basketball in Da’Sean Butler. Nobody in the Final Four will be trusted taking a crucial shot under a minute more than Butler. Duke, Michigan State and Butler also can’t come close to matching the height of West Virginia across the board.

Potential Downfall: West Virginia isn’t a particularly good jump shooting team. They don’t rank in the top-100 in two-point, three-point or free throw percentage on the season. Although they do have forwards such as Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones that can step out and drain a three, there’s no consistent long-range shooter on the roster to trust other than Butler. JC transfer Casey Mitchell was supposed to be that weapon but never truly emerged and Huggins doesn’t trust him for long stretches. Even after Mazzulla’s stunning performance in the regional final, I’d still label point guard a weakness for the Mountaineers. It was a weakness before Darryl Bryant injured his foot, and even though he may return, the sophomore point was mired in a terrible scoring slump. As long as defenders keep Mazzulla in front and don’t allow penetration to the rim, there’s no need to respect any sort of jump shot from him.

X-Factor: I’m of the camp that Kevi n Jones is one of the most underrated players in the nation. He features one of the most complete games in the Big East- a reliable mid-range jumper with the ability to step out and hit a three, a tremendous knack for grabbing rebounds and excellent court vision for a forward. Jones ranks in the top-25 in offensive rating, top-60 in turnover rate and top-100 in effective FG% in the nation. Jones will need to do his best rebounding-wise against a Duke team that out-worked a taller Baylor squad on the offensive boards. It’s imperative Jones box out Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek on a consistent basis.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Huggins will likely match up 6’9 Devin Ebanks against Duke forward Kyle Singler. Singler was forced to chase Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn all over the floor defensively on Sunday and it resulted in the only game in his Duke career Singler did not make a field goal. While Ebanks isn’t the same type of player coming off screens for shots as Dunn, Ebanks will need to be in constant movement in Huggins offense to wear down Singler in similar fashion. On the other end of the floor, it’ll be vital that Ebanks utilize his length and frustrate Singler into contested shots without much room to operate. Take Singler out of his game, hope one of Jon Scheyer or Nolan Smith loses his shooting stroke, and West Virginia could be on their way.

Crunch Time Performer: There’s no better crunch time performer in the nation than Da’Sean Butler. While this distinction may have been Scottie Reynolds’ or John Wall’s or Chandler Parsons’ at various points this season, it’s clear Butler has emerged as the cream of the crop. Butler beat Marquette with a  shot at the buzzer, helped the Mountaineers squeak by Louisville with clutch baskets, hit a contested runner to win at Villanova and sunk game-winners against Cincinnati and Georgetown at the Big East Tournament. Even more than Jon Scheyer, Durrell Summers or Gordon Hayward, I want Da’Sean Butler taking the final shot out of any player at the Final Four. Huggins will put the ball in his hands late in games and let him do his thing.

Experience: Prior to this season’s Big East Tournament and Final Four triumphs, Bob Huggins was known more for his March chokes than accolades. Huggins has piled up 670 wins during his coaching career and yet prior to 2010 only reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament four times. This squad does have limited experience in the Sweet Sixteen from their run as a #7 seed in 2008. Remember Mazzulla’s last epic NCAA Tournament performance that year against Duke? If you believe coaching experience is a factor, then the semifinal matchup against Duke and Coach K certainly doesn’t bode well for Huggins.

Forecast: The Mountaineers have as good of a chance as any of the four teams still standing. Their physical style wears down opponents for 40 minutes and West Virginia can match Duke in terms of effectiveness and efficiency from offense to defense to rebounding. Da’Sean Butler may have more magic up his sleeve and the versatility of their roster is quite a luxury. Huggins employed a lot of zone against Kentucky to force their guards to make shots around the perimeter. Will he do the same against Scheyer, Smith and Singler? The game could come down to whether Duke can make outside shots.

Prediction: I have West Virginia falling just short against Duke. I simply trust Duke’s guards more than what the Mountaineers can throw out there. Jon Scheyer has regained his shooting stroke and Nolan Smith has an arsenal that can be impossible to defend. From their Big East Tournament run to the heroics of Butler to the upset of top-seed Kentucky, it was quite a ride for Huggins at his alma mater.

zhayes9 (301 Posts)

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