Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Deconstructing West Virginia -- The Four Forwards Offense

Missing Pieces
The strong start is not surprising; the Mountaineers were projected as either the #1 or the #2 in the Big East by virtually every MSM analyst...not to mention the Big East coaches. Though a few previews were out before Mazzulla and Bryant were re-instated to the program (both had been suspended for unrelated incidents in the spring and summer of 2009), I suspect virtually everyone familiar with West Virginia and Coach Huggins assumed the coach would have both back in uniform for the start of fall practice, the late spring recruitment of JUCO off guard Casey Mitchell (out of Chipola College) notwithstanding. And the Coach matched expectations as both were available by October 15. Mazzulla's rehab has gone more slowly than anticipated, but the back up point guard has played in all but the 1st game of the season. Bryant's injury prior to the Mississippi game (during the Cleveland State game? The origins & extent are ambiguous) however, was not anticipated and has complicated Coach Huggins' rotation in the last 4 games they have played.

Four Forwards and a Wing
Coach Huggins unveiled the unusual lineup for the Mississippi game, while suggesting Bryant was dinged and less efficient. He has used the same 5, John Flowers, Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith, Da'Sean Butler (the wing...) and Kevin Jones. Both Bryant and Mazzulla remain in the rotation, injuries & rehabilitation notwithstanding, but with altered minutes as the tables below show.

BryantThru Clev.
MazzullaThru Clev.
BryantAfter Clev.
MazzullaAfter Clev.

The table shows the per game averages for Bryant and Mazzulla, for the first 8 games (Loyola through Cleveland State) and the last 4 (Mississippi through Purdue). Bryant's decline in efficiency (and time) is consistent with the idea that he is injured, but a forward (Ebanks) took about 8 of the 12 minutes vacated by Bryant -- Joe Mazzulla's additional 4 minutes per game is an understatement...he only played 1 minute at Purdue. The declining shot accuracy is misleading -- the 4 forwards plus Kevin Jones could make that up (see table below) -- the assist decline, expressed in part through the declining assist-to-turnover ratio, is an area of concern. A recent article cited Bryant's shooting woes as an initial reason for the move to "The Four Forwards", and a look at some of the possession-based stats suggests the move did boost shooting efficiency...but at a cost

Thru Clev. St.53.018.842.439.048.729.028.938.8
After Clev St.

WVU managed to tweak their eFG% by a point, but they also bumped their turnover percentage (turnovers per 100 possessions) up by about 6 points. The toll for playing an off guard at the #1? While shooting efficiency was affected at both sides of the ball, note that so too were turnovers and rebounding. In the latter 2 cases the affect was adverse. Most interesting is that in general shooting is recognized as the most important factor in offensive and defensive efficiency, when the full effect of turnovers and rebounding are weighed against the improvement in shot making and defense, the overall impact was negative (see table below).


Thru Clev. St.66.1115.687.70.280
After Clev St.65.8106.6106.7-0.001

The stepback was significant enough to produce a net negative in efficiency differentials, also reflected (slightly) in the game results over those four games. West Virginia did go 3-1 over that stretch, but while they beat Mississippi by 10, they took Marquette by a single point and had to go to overtime to subdue the Hall. And of course they lost to Purdue in West Lafayette. The experiment was short lived. Injuries, lack of confidence, whatever, Coach Huggins started Bryant against Rutgers. The sophomore logged 20 minutes even as his junior backup spelled him for 15 more. The two pgs managed to score 19 points (Bryant had 15) and dish 7 assists to 1 turnover (Mazzulla had 5 assists to 0 turnovers). And the Mountaineers won 86-52.

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