Thursday, November 11, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- West Virginia Mountaineers

Too Busy for the Details?
West Virginia finished the 2010 Big East season strong, running the table at Madison Square Garden and brushing their first three NCAA opponents by nine or better points. Putting down the Kentucky Wildcats, 73-66, in the East Regional the Mountaineers punched their ticket to the second Final Four in the program's history. Their loss to eventual champion Duke in the semi-final was overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding senior Da'Sean Butler, injured during the game, who appeared prepared to play at the next level once his days in Morgantown were done. Coach Huggins will see his back court return intact and hopefully healthier in 2011 than 2010. Casey Mitchell and Deniz Kilicli should be aclimated to the West Virginia system. Can the Mountaineers make it two consecutive Final Fours? They have a good starting point.  Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance


Returning points, considering the losses include four year players Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith, along with Devin Ebanks, is surprisingly close to returning minutes. The points can be replaced as there are several Mountaineer bballers ready to step up.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Off Eff112.42106.38107.44
BE Def Eff100.3398.1399.64
BE Eff Diff12.118.267.84
BE Def eFG48.2547.7350.211
BE Def TOv20.1520.9321.73
BE Def OReb32.9T432.1531.35
BE Def FTA/FGA43.71439.71337.78

The defensive numbers have remained fairly "steady" over the past three seasons, though the Mountaineers are becoming (note their FGA/FGA for defense) far more physical defenders than they were under John Beilein. In the transition from John Beilein's finesse-oriented style of offense and defense, the Bob Huggins squads have not developed a "signature" defensive feature. They do not excel at shot defense, nor at rebounding (remarkable considering their offensive rebounding), nor for forcing turnovers. The uptick in allowing opponents to get to the line, taken here as an indication of more physical play, is the only noticeable difference in defensive play over the last three season. If the defense is largely nondescript (physical play excepted), the same cannot be said for the offense...

Care to guess Bob Huggins' first season?

The transition from efficient shot selection to offensive rebounding is remarkable. While the current coach may have carried over much of the Beilein offensive playbook, the shift from working the defense to free a shooter (usually on the perimeter) and snag a high-percentage shot to controlling the boards for the second-chance opportunity is striking. Note that West Virginia hovered on the boundary separating the first and second quartiles (#3 down to #5) while making this offensive transition. Can the Mountaineers improve their Big East standing? The data would suggest they cannot get much better at offensive rebounding. With turnovers and FTA/FGA fluctuating from season-to-season, eFG% (shooting efficiency) would have to improve for West Virginia to maintain their place at the table in the first quartile. In an offense where efficient shot making predominates, turnovers may play a more important role than offensive rebounding.

For the Record...
Big East1350.7221080.5561170.611
Post Season?NCAA Rnd #5NCAA Rnd #1NCAA Rnd #3

The Mountaineer's Nucleus
When Coach Bob Huggins runs his first practice, he will look on a squad composed nearly entirely of players he (and Assistant Coach Billy Hahn) recruited. Ironically, the squad is not much longer than those assembled by John Beilein, but they faster and more athletic.

On Offense
Kevin Jones81.2124.618.521.557.612.01.1828.5
Darryl Bryant55.0102.723.921.442.42.71.0056.0
Joe Mazzulla38.591.515.
John Flowers35.4102.514.612.648.56.10.9850.0
Casey Mitchell18.5102.824.333.341.55.40.8015.6
Cam Thoroughman16.891.
Dalton Pepper14.8112.520.327.847.24.40.9812.2

Look for juniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant to function as first and second scoring options when they are on the floor. They should be augmented by back court/wing players Casey Mitchell and Dalton Pepper, two of the most efficient rotation players last season. If they increase their time without reducing their usage (Poss%) or sacrificing efficiency (ORtg), they should be able to make up for the departed offense. West Virginia fans who look to senior John Flowers for a big step up will be disappointed. Flowers will get minutes, and the senior has provided better efficiency than (say) Joe Mazzulla, but Flowers has not provided more than limited role player-type offense in his previous three seasons, and will not grow much beyond that level this season either. An "X Factor" player going into this season is sophomore forward/center Deniz Kilicli, a Turk who sat for an NCAA-mandated 23 games last season. Should the Turk improve his rebounding (his shot efficiency, 51.2% eFG%, compared favorably with other members of the squad), he will see (a lot) more floor time in 2011.

On Defense
Kevin Jones81.
Darryl Bryant55.07.725.
Joe Mazzulla38.511.226.528.00.22.5
John Flowers35.413.515.520.26.02.4
Casey Mitchell18.57.59.910.70.02.2
Cam Thoroughman16.810.511.634.81.81.2
Dalton Pepper14.84.715.

Not a good sign when the point guard is the second-most efficient defensive rebounder. Jones is a great offensive rebounder, but has to get better on the defensive glass. And someone from Pepper, Kilicli and Flowers will have to improve greatly if the West Virginia is to stay among the conference elites in defense.

Significant Additions
The Mountaineers' entering class, on the small (in number) size, has been steadily reduced. A single player, 6-10, 235 pound Kevin Noreen out of Minneapolis, MN is available. Noah Cottrill, a 6-3, 195 scoring machine, was suspended indefinitely in late October. Red shirt freshman Kenny Ross, a 6-0 175 pound guard, may see some rotation minutes.

Explode If...
1. Pepper, Kilicli and Mitchell can efficienctly replace the departed scoring.
2. The Mountaineers can take better care of the ball. Turnovers were not a drag on the offense last season, but should Coach Huggins' squad reduce their turnover rate (17.2% in conference play last season) by another 4% (which would rank them in the top 2-3 in conference) they could get another 2-3 field goal attempts per game in the bargain.
3. Bryant improves his shot conversion efficiency to "average". The guard was terrible last season, converting just 37.7% of his 2 point attempts and 31.5% of his 3 point attempts.

Implode If...
1. Reduction in the number of players available. The exact reason does not really matter, health or discipline failings can net the same result, and the squad has suffered both, and NCAA sanctions as well, over the past three seasons. At least five different players have had at least six run-ins that resulted in loss of game time. The coach does not have a deep enough squad this season to sustain efficiency should another player or two have to sit.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
West Virginia will rely on the 2010 Puerto Rico Tip-Off field to provide some credibility to their out of conference (OOC) schedule. Their first round opponent will be Davidson (Southern Conference), with either Nebraska (Big 12) or Vanderbilt (SEC -- most likely) to follow. High majors bracketed in the other half of the field include North Carolina (ACC -- a possible third opponent), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt powerhouse) and Minnesota (Big Ten -- possible fourth opponent). Puerto Rico comes early (November 18 through November 21), so the trip to Miami for a December 4 game is, local rivals Robert Morris and Duquesne aside, their sternest test before the Big East schedule. WVU does have two additional OOC games after conference play begins -- a made-for-TV matchup with Purdue (1/16) and traditional in state rival Marshall (1/19). If the Mountaineers are 11-0/10-1 (a reasonable expectation) when they meet St. John's on 12/29, they will ranked in the national polls and probably in line for a very good (#3 or better) seed in the NCAAs. 8-3 (or worse) and West Virginia fans will be pining for the days of Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks.

West Virginia's mirrors, Backyard Brawl rival Pittsburgh, Louisville and DePaul, are a good, representative mix of the conference. Given the Coliseum's intimidation factor, the 'Eers should be able to wring a 4-2 or even 5-1 record from that trio. Noting the Coliseum as an advantage, hosting St. John's, Notre Dame and Seton Hall should translate into Ws for Coach Huggins' squad and provide a tie-breaker edge with teams that may well challenge for position in conference standings. The Johnnies and Pirates visit fairly early in the conference season. The Mountaineers open the conference season with a five game slate before they take a two game "OOC break". Those five games include a home opener against St. John's (welcome to the Big East Steve Lavin!), followed by a three game road trip (WVU's longest road run) that takes the squad out to the midwest (Marquette and DePaul) with a chaser in DC (Georgetown) and then a home game against Providence. Sporting a 3-2 conference record before hosting Purdue would be par for the course (but a bit disappointing?). Anything less should be cause for concern, though not surprising if their OOC record was (say) 8-3 or poorer. The last half of the schedule, on paper, is tougher than the first, so keeping the losses to one or two is important. The far turn features a road trip to Philadelphia and a meeting with Villanova. That game is followed by both Backyard Brawl games and a trip to Syracuse. If WVU has 10-11 conference wins going into the home stretch, they will be in very good shape as they have a trip to Piscataway and a date with Rutgers, followed by a two game homestand that features Connecticut and Louisville. A 3-0 run to close out the conference schedule (combined with the 10-11 wins going in) would put West Virginia in line for a #3/#4 seed in the Big East Tournament.

No comments: