The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 20, 2010

WVU’s numbers similar to last year

MORGANTOWN — The next time West Virginia steps on the court with anything at stake other than pride it will be in the Big East opener at home against St. John’s, that coming after an exhibition game on the schedule for Wednesday night against Walsh, an NAIA team that is where Bob Huggins’ head coaching career began.

The question therefore is whether or not WVU is ready for the Big East and how does it compare to last year’s team that powered its way to the Final Four?

So, let’s compare some raw numbers after 10 games:

• Field goal percentage last year: 45.7. This year: 46.4.

• 3-point percentage last year: 33.3. This year: 33.0.

• Free throw percentage last year: 66.4. This year: 69.4.

• Offensive rebounds last year: 163. This year: 148.

• Defensive rebounds last year: 233. This year: 248

• Assists last year: 177. This year: 157.

That is the numbers, now what do they show?

One thing they show is that perception sometimes alters reality. When you consider that you are comparing to a team that went to the Final Four and a team with Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks on it, you would expect it have a large edge in most categories and it doesn’t.

This year’s group may not impress you and it does have two losses where last year’s team didn’t, but the statistics say it is very similar. Incredibly, considering the problems Coach Bob Huggins has had with his big men Deniz Kilicli and Danny Jennings, this team has exactly the same number of rebounds.

Scoring is almost identical, too, at 77.7 percent last year and 77.2 percent last year. Shooting from the field is almost identical while this year’s team has shot free throws better.

But if you look closely at the numbers, one thing seems to jump out at you.

This year’s Mountaineers are not as athletic as last year’s.

Case in point (1): Offensive rebounds. This year’s team doesn’t get on the offensive glass, where athleticism is necessary, quite as well.

Case in point (2): Defense. This year’s team is giving up four more points a game than last year’s and that would seem to trace directly to athleticism.

First and foremost, Huggins doesn’t believe he can play the 1-3-1 zone that was so devastatingly effective last year with this year’s group.

“This not a great 1-3-1 team,” Huggins said  “I just can’t put John Flowers in enough places.”

Flowers, of course, is the most athletic player he has this season. When you replace Wellington Smith, Butler and Ebanks out of that 1-3-1, with their length and quickness, you lose a lot, especially if it happens to be Cam Thoroughman and, say, Casey Mitchell out there.

Because of that, Huggins is trying different defensive approaches.

“We may end up playing a lot of point drop where Joe [Mazzulla] puts people where they are supposed to be and Cam knows what he’s doing,” Huggins said. “We worked on it maybe 10 minutes for two or three days in case we needed it [for Cleveland State].

“We didn’t stop their penetration very well with it but we weren’t stopping it very well with the other guys in there.”

The 1-3-1 last year led to a lot of steals and a lot of fast breaks, things that are missing this season. In fact, last year’s team has 68 steals after 10 games while this year’s group has but 46, about two-thirds as many.

Last year’s team did something else better than this year’s team and that is pass the ball. They had 20 more assists last year after 10 games, in part because Da’Sean Butler was pretty good at setting others up as well as getting his own shot.

Huggins thought he saw improvement in that area in the Cleveland State victory.

“We passed better,” he said. “We didn’t force as many things. We ended up with 10 turnovers and we had been getting 15, 16 or 17.”

Huggins noticed that his team passed the ball not only better, but more frequently, setting up things better than just coming down, making a pass and shot. A lot of that, of course, had to do with Thoroughman playing 33 minutes. He is one of the best passers on the team and had seven assists without a turnover against Cleveland State.

Huggins admits he is concerned with Kevin Jones’ free throw shooting, which stands at a dismal 53.1 percent, but he noted that Jones started slowly from the line last year. There may be more to worry about than just that, as Jones is hitting only 26.5 percent of his 3s after making 40.4 percent last year.

That has dragged his overall shooting average down to 44.3 percent from the field, far off the 52.1 percent he shot last season.

Huggins also is satisfied with the progress the defense is making. After giving up 70 or more points to the first four teams, his team has allowed only Miami to reach 70 since.

“It’s hard to win if you don’t score 70,” he noted. “Not that you don’t win some, but it’s hard and it’s really hard to win in our league if you don’t score 70.”

Not to argue with Huggins, but last season he won the Big East Tournament scoring 54, 53 and 60 points in the three games.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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