Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 61, #4 West Virginia 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga Survives and Advances (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. The Abominable Mountaineers. West Virginia got the game it wanted. A foul-filled first half full of ugly was followed by more of the same in the second half, ultimately resulting in a gnarly 61-58 abomination of a win by Gonzaga that came down to struggling offense as a result of gritty defense. This game notched a total of 51 fouls, 61 free throws, 29 turnovers and only nine made threes, but it was a bomb by Jordan Mathews from the left wing who provided a glimmer of beauty in a visual disaster. And although Gonzaga clearly did not prefer to play such a physical, rough-and-tumble style, credit goes to the Zags for beating West Virginia at its own game to advance to the Elite Eight.
  2. And It Came Down to Defense. Everyone knows about West Virginia’s pressure defense, and it was certainly a factor tonight — the Zags committed 16 turnovers that included a period in the late second half when it appeared the wheels might be completely coming off. But it was the less-heralded Gonzaga defense that held West Virginia to a moribund 27 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range, allowing Mark Few’s team just enough wiggle room to suffer a horrid offensive night and still come away with the win. As Huggins alluded to after the game, there simply weren’t many open looks for his team tonight.
  3. That Final Play Though. The final play of the game — which was really three offensive plays in one — resulted in West Virginia’s Jevon Carter dribbling 22 times (!!!) in an effort to isolate and create space for a pair of long not-close threes. When the Mountaineers grabbed the offensive rebound both times, the ball ended up in his hands again. His final attempt, which Gonzaga had by this point completely sniffed out and covered well beyond the top of the key, resulted in what would have been a blocked shot but ended up being a bailout pass to the wing and no shot at all. It was a disastrous end to a disastrous game, but it felt completely appropriate given all the nastiness that had been displayed over the previous 39+ minutes.

Star of the Game. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga. In a game where points were at a premium, the most insane play of the game occurred after West Virginia had missed two free throws, Gonzaga corralled the rebound, only to have the ball stolen and a layup attempt blocked (possibly fouled?) and the Zags moving back upcourt. After a tipped 40-foot pass from the right sideline to Mathews standing on the left wing, his three-pointer broke a deadlocked game and allowed the Zags to put together their final stand. Mathews only logged 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, but his shot will go down in Gonzaga lore in a game that surely felt like it was slipping away.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 51, Kansas State 50

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

West Virginia Pulls Off the Comeback (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Offense was nowhere to be found in first-half slog. In their previous two meetings against the Mountaineers, Kansas State struggled to hold onto the ball, posting turnover rates above 20 percent. West Virginia’s press didn’t frustrate the Wildcats quite as much tonight, as Bob Huggins‘ team generated takeaways on just 18.3 percent of Kansas State’s possessions. Instead, it was poor half-court offense, inaccurate three-point shooting and a lack of offensive rebounds that set the Wildcats back early — scoring just 0.78 points per possession before halftime. Those struggles would have been a much bigger issue had West Virginia scored more than 0.50 points per trip itself.
  2. West Virginia’s defensive adjustment keys second-half rally. The Mountaineers’ defensive identity as a pressing team is firmly entrenched, but it’s tough to set it up if you don’t make shots. West Virginia shot an ice-cold 18.8 percent in the first half and failed to score a single point 0ff a Kansas State giveaway until the second half. Huggins switched things up down the stretch, deploying a 1-3-1 zone that worked all the way down to the final play, when Kamau Stokes picked up his dribble and had nowhere to go with his team needing a bucket to win. The Wildcats connected on just four shots over the final 13:26 of the game, buying just enough time for the Mountaineers to make up a 12-point deficit.
  3. Isaiah Maurice provides another big body. Two years into his career, Dean Wade is still mostly a one-way big man who struggles to defend similarly-sized players. D.J. Johnson can’t do it all down low, so Bruce Weber needs another option. Enter the unlikely Maurice, a redshirt freshman and former Old Dominion commitment. Maurice helped the Wildcats contain Johnathan Motley on Thursday and performed admirably on Friday in 20 minutes of action. West Virginia shot just 2-of-15 inside the arc in the first half, with Maurice holding down the paint and altering shots by Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian. Until Wade becomes more assertive on the defensive end, expect Maurice to continue to play a key role in the Wildcats’ rotation.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Big 12/SEC Challenge Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 31st, 2017

College basketball’s several interconference challenges are largely the same, but the Big 12 and SEC’s decision to turn theirs into a one-day event smack dab in the middle of conference play is a great way of differentiating itself. Most fans and pundits seem to agree with this opinion, unless, of course, you believe that the Big 12/SEC Challenge should move to December for carefully researched reasons like “just because.” What instead might lead to the challenge’s demise is not when the games are played during the season, but the lack of watchable games provided to the viewers. For example, there is no good explanation for 17-4 South Carolina to be left off this year’s schedule in favor of 10 other SEC teams. And even if it’s understandable that the challenge wants to avoid a number of potential conflicts  — such as Baylor‘s Scott Drew not wanting to play his brother Bryce Drew‘s team at Vanderbilt; Frank Martin having no interest in taking his Gamecocks to Kansas State; Texas tussling with Texas A&M; or Rick Barnes squaring off with the Longhorns — the fans want to see the most compelling match-ups. In any case, a fresh batch of power rankings is ready for your consumption. (caution: do not eat them all at once)

Maybe it was the Yeezys. Whatever it was, Bill Self and Kansas were able to hand Kentucky its second home loss of the season. (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – The Jayhawks had not lost back-to-back games since December 10, 2014. The last time Kentucky, on the other hand, had lost consecutive games was just last season, when it fell to Kansas and Tennessee in succession. This year the order was reversed, but the Jayhawks delivered the Wildcats the same fate. If there was any concern about Kansas after its Tuesday night loss to West Virginia, that quickly evaporated with the win at Rupp Arena, where Frank Mason continued to make his case for National Player of the Year.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “The Bears seem to have lost some steam in the national conversation but they still have one of the five best defenses in the country and the best of the Big 12. Their length inside has held opponents to 43.2 percent shooting on two-pointers in conference play. That’s a recipe for success in this league.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

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One Burning Question: How Can West Virginia Replace Its Lost Talent?

Posted by Chris Stone on November 2nd, 2016

The idea of building around a system or a specific style of play is not a new one in college basketball. Villanova’s Jay Wright, for example, has historically succeeded by playing a four-out, one-in offensive system that features guards who can shoot and take advantage of mismatches. The Big 12 also has its share of programs with a knack for finding players and fitting them into a largely predetermined system of play. Kansas head coach Bill Self has been notoriously stubborn about his high-low offense, even going so far as to suggest there is a target number of three-point field goals the Jayhawks look to take each season. At VCU, Shaka Smart earned his reputation by regularly recruiting players best suited to succeed in the system he dubbed “HAVOC.” Over the past several seasons, another Big 12 program has made waves by instituting a similarly successful, if not somewhat unorthodox, system.

With a revamped press philosophy, Bob Huggins and West Virginia are climbing their way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

With a revamped press philosophy, West Virginia is climbing its way back up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia has developed a fast-paced, in-your-face press — Press Virginia, if you will — that has turned the Mountaineers from a merely average defensive team into one of the very best in the country., Bob Huggins’ team has ranked among the top two nationally in defensive turnover percentage the last two seasons, causing a miscue on over a quarter of their opponents’ offensive possessions. All those giveaways in turn led to easy buckets and spurred West Virginia on to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids after several years of middling efforts. The question now is whether the proven system can withstand a significant shock to its personnel. West Virginia no longer has the services of either of their two double-figure scorers from a year ago — Jaysean Paige is out of eligibility and big man Devin Williams declared early for the 2016 NBA Draft. The pair provided the Mountaineers with something of an offensive safety net when the turnovers weren’t coming. Jonathan Holton is also finished. The 6’9″ forward –one of the signature pieces in Huggins’ pressing defense — was the type of versatile athlete who excelled atop the press. Holton could defend smaller players coming upcourt with time to quickly recover and battle with some of the league’s best in the post. He was also the team’s second-best rebounder, helping to close out defensive possessions after opponents had gotten through the pressure and taken a rushed shot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 69, Oklahoma 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

Buddy Hield's buzzer-beating three was a fraction of a second late, nullifying the crazy celebration it sparked.

Buddy Hield’s buzzer-beating three was ruled to be fraction of a second late, nullifying the celebration it sparked just behind Press Row.

  1. Buddy Hield and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. The National Player of the Year candidate had arguably his worst game of the year in more ways than one. Having played 152 of his team’s last 160 minutes, Hield wasn’t at 100 percent and it showed as he struggled to a 1-of-8 performance from the floor, but he had an opportunity to redeem himself in the game’s closing seconds. After West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton hit the back end of two free throw attempts to put West Virginia ahead by two points with one second left, Oklahoma had one last chance to tie the game or take the lead. Hield broke free from his defender, caught the inbounds pass and started up the sideline, hoisting a three from 50 feet away just as the buzzer sounded. The shot miraculously banked in, seemingly giving Oklahoma the victory and catapulting Hield into the stands to celebrate. After further review by the officials, though, the party was broken up and the bucket was overturned. Jubilation among the Sooners quickly transferred to the Mountaineers as the crowd buzzed in equal parts shock and delight. The absence of another game this weekend for Oklahoma could be a blessing in disguise, though, as it gives the Sooners another day of rest before the NCAA Tournament starts next week. The drama of March certainly hit Oklahoma’s star very hard on this night.
  2. West Virginia gets hot from deep. The Mountaineers will never be mistaken for a team that blinds opponents with their spacing, but they can get hot from outside and they did so tonight. Led by Jevon Carter’s 6-of-9 three-point shooting performance, West Virginia regularly found open shooters on its way to a 45.5 percent clip, the eighth time this season in which they eclipsed 40 percent from distance. The Mountaineers’ preferred style of offense is to create high-percentage looks generated by their press, but the added wrinkle of a perimeter game worthy of respect could raise this team’s ceiling once the brackets are unveiled on Sunday.
  3. There was more to the finish than the buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Between Hield’s struggles and West Virginia’s hot shooting, the Mountaineers built a 12-point lead with seven minutes left, but the Sooners rallied to create a back-and-forth contest over the last three minutes. Hield’s desperation heave twas a product of two key plays in just the last five seconds. With four ticks remaining and his team down by one, Christian James drove for a layup that would have given the Sooners the lead, but he shockingly missed the high-percentage look, which was rebounded by Holton. After Holton was fouled, he missed the first free throw to keep the lead at one with just one second remaining. Rather than intentionally missing the second free throw to significantly reduce the chance of Oklahoma getting a clear look, though, Holton hit the second free throw, setting the drama of the final play into motion. Fortunately for Holton and the Mountaineers, Hield’s three was ultimately waved off, but it’s always interesting to look back and see how one play — James’ botched layup, in this case — changes the complexion of a game.

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College Basketball’s Grinch: A Deeper Look at West Virginia’s Press

Posted by Chris Stone on December 21st, 2015

After five straight seasons of NCAA Tournament appearances including a run to the 2010 Final Four, West Virginia missed out on March Madness altogether in its first two years in the Big 12 (2012-13 and 2013-14). A 13-19 season was followed by a 17-16 mark, and after that disappointing season, the team’s second leading scorer, Eron Harris, announced plans to transfer. To outside observers, it appeared that the program was in something of an identity crisis. The next season, the Mountaineers were subsequently picked to finish sixth in the preseason Big 12 poll. But rather than to wallow in mediocrity, head coach Bob Huggins opted to make a significant change to his style of play. That process has been well-documented by both Raphielle Johnson from NBC Sports and C.J. Moore at Bleacher Report, but the short version is that Huggins enlisted the help of former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey to implement a faster pace and full-court press. The first-year results were impressive, as the Mountaineers became the most proficient team in college basketball at turning opponents over and their adjusted defensive efficiency shot 100 spots up the rankings. West Virginia finished tied for fourth place in the Big 12 standings with a 25-10 (11-7) record before making a run to the Sweet Sixteen.

With a revamped press philosophy, Bob Huggins and West Virginia are climbing their way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

With a revamped pressure defensive philosophy, West Virginia is climbing its way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

Through the first month of this season, the Mountaineers once again lead the country in defensive turnover rate. They are sixth in overall adjusted defensive efficiency and figure to again be a tough out in March. While many have already written about how “Press Virginia” came into existence, few have examined what makes the defense really tick. Last Thursday, in a below average defensive performance, West Virginia defeated intrastate rival Marshall, 86-68. It created a turnover on 24.7 percent of possessions, a number well below its 30.3 percent season average. However, the game still offered several insights into how Press Virginia operates. Let’s start with a full possession from early in the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preview: West Virginia’s Burning Question

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 3rd, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can the Mountaineers get back to the NCAA Tournament without Juwan Staten? 

West Virginia alumnus Bob Huggins returned to Morgantown in April 2007 to take over as head coach of the men’s basketball program. He made his presence immediately felt by getting the Mountaineers back into the NCAA Tournament during his first season. The school would go on to make five straight appearances in the Big Dance and produce one of my favorite tournament moments along the way. In the Elite Eight of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, a Mountaineers squad led by Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks upset a Kentucky team keyed by John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, 73-66. The game itself wasn’t all that interesting, but I’m a sucker for a bit of showmanship combined with just the right amount of taunting. So when I later stumbled across video of West Virginia players celebrating the victory by doing the John Wall dance on the podium, the moment became forever etched in my mind. It was peak college basketball — young kids without much an NBA future enjoying their victory over a roster full of NBA talent on the sport’s biggest stage.

Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter will look to replace Juwan Staten in Morgantown. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter will look to replace Juwan Staten in Morgantown. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Unfortunately, West Virginia’s fall from that peak was rather precipitous. Sure, the Mountaineers made the NCAAs the next two seasons, but they failed both times to get past the first weekend. In 2013 and 2014, the school missed the NCAA Tournament altogether, and after a 2014 trip to the NIT, two of Huggins’ top three scorers transferred out of the program. Things in Morgantown appeared to be in a downward spiral, as the Mountaineers were picked to finish tied for sixth in the Big 12 going into last season. Last year’s team, though, would end up exceeding those expectations. Behind All-Big 12 point guard Juwan Staten, West Virginia stormed out of the gates to a 12-1 record in non-conference play before finishing 11-7 in the Big 12, good for a fourth place tie with Baylor. The catalyst to that run was a decision by Huggins to employ a fast-paced, high-pressure full-court press that forced opponents to make very difficult decisions. The change worked. The Mountaineers returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years and made the Sweet Sixteen where they ran into a Kentucky team stacked with NBA talent once again. Despite the successful season to that point, there was no celebratory John Wall dance this time as the Mountaineers were pummeled by 39 points.

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Musings on the Mountaineers: Just How Good is West Virginia?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 13th, 2015

West Virginia has been one of this season’s biggest surprises in college basketball. Picked by the league’s coaches to finish in a tie for sixth in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are currently 7-4 and tied for third. Head coach Bob Huggins has fundamentally transformed the team’s playing style by adopting a high-pressure defense that aims to turn opponents over before they can set up their half-court offense. “We knew we could get teams to play different,” West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison recently told Bleacher Report. “Our goal is to get them out of their half-court offense. That’s what the goal was.”

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their up tempo play.

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their uptempo play this season.

The strategy has been successful. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage, causing a turnover on 27.5 percent of its opponents’ possessions. Its high-paced, trapping defense has helped create steals on 14.5 percent of possessions in league play. Freshman Jevon Carter — an unranked, three-star recruit — has been a revelation, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage by creating a turnover on 5.0 percent of possessions. Turnovers are an important part of keeping teams out of their half-court offenses and they’re necessary to West Virginia’s success. Because of it, the Mountaineers have the fourth-best defense in the Big 12 (allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions) despite only having the league’s ninth-best defensive effective field goal percentage.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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