10 THOUGHTS ON THE WEST VIRGINIA GAME
Rutgers (16-9, 7-7) throttled West Virginia (14-10, 6-7) Wednesday night at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights seized control of a see-saw battle midway through the first half. Rutgers outscored West Virginia 25-7 over the final 10:00 to turn a 5-point deficit into a 13-point halftime lead. West Virginia got no closer than 12 points in the second half before Rutgers quickly pushed the lead to 20 points and kept it there. Here are ten thoughts on the West Virginia game.
1. Ricky Shields. Shields rediscovered his long lost mid-range game and, as a result, was a much more effective player. Where has that been? Instead of settling fro the long 3PA, Shields pump faked and drove around his defender for 15-18 foot jumpers. These are more fluid shots than perimeter jumpers launched off horizontal passes. And the dribble penetration distorted the Mountaineer zone, creating opportunities inside for the big men.
2. Bait. Herve Lamizana did an outstanding job acting as bait for sideline double teams. West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone forces the ball to one side of the court, where it is immediately double-teamed by the point and wing defender. Herve was often the outlet for the double team, along the same sideline closer to the baseline, where he was in turn double teamed by the wing and baseline defenders. Herve's height enabled him to pass out of the double team. And his patience allowed West Virginia to fully commit to his double team, leaving a Knight open on the weak side. Herve's passing out of double teams along the sideline resulted in excellent shots for the Scarlet Knights, either via skip passes over the zone or quick ball rotation to the weak side. Although Herve made only 3 of 9 FGAs, his shot selection was outstanding. As was his dribble penetration and passing. He was whistled for a TO on the final possession of the first half. I thought it was a good drop step move. Early in the second half, Herve made a nice left hand move from the right block. That shot has been there all season and is unstoppable.
3. Inside Scoring. Before the game, I stated that I expected double figure scoring from both Sean Axani and Adrian Hill. West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone leaves the baseline undefended. I expected passes to the baseline off dribble penetration. Ax and, to a lesser extent, Hill did a nice job finding the interior holes in the defense – both 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones – and the perimeter players found them off dribble penetration. The pair was very economical in scoring 20 points on 8 of 10 FGAs.
4. Attacking the Zone. West Virginia's 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defenses are anchored by 6'11" shot blocker Fischer in the middle. Rutgers generally attacked the Mountaineer zones well. The backcourt passing was shaky -- too many lollipops – but WVU lacked the athleticism to capitalize. Although Rutgers struggled to score in the opening 10 minutes, it wasn't for lack of good shots. The Scarlet Knights took good shots when they didn't commit bad TOs. After committing 4 TOs in the opening 8 minutes, Rutgers began attacking the zone defenses with dribble penetration and interior passing. Rutgers shot 50% in the first half and 53% for the game.
5. Defense. West Virginia shot well in the opening 10 minutes (6 of 11 FGAs), with transition and motion-induced layups accounting for most of the points. Only 5 Mountaineer TOs prevented West Virginia from leading by more than 5 points (14-9). But West Virginia never found the range from the 3-point arc (except for Patrick Beilein, who shot 4 of 4 on 3PAs). Rutgers held West Virginia to 7 points over the final 10:00 on 3 of 17 FGAs. The Scarlet Knights better defended the Mountaineer motion (fewer layups and short jumpers) and forced the Mountaineers to make jumpers – they couldn't. Kevin Pittsnogle was completely ineffective – inside or outside. The defense stayed in front of Tyrone Sally. Joe Herber and JD Collins couldn't make jump shots. The offense was D'or Fischer and Beilein until garbage time. Which started at with the first media timeout at 15:30 of the second half.
6. Juel Wiggan. Wiggan had a very versatile performance. He scored 8 points on 2 of 4 FGAs and 4 of 4 FTAs. He added 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He didn't settle for perimeter jumpers but instead attacked the seams in Mountaineer zone and either scored, dished, or drew a foul.
7. FT shooting. The Scarlet Knights attacked the basket with dribble penetration while West Virginia settled for jump shots. The result was a 17-2 differential in FTAs. Rutgers capitalized on its FTAs, making 88% (15 of 17). Herve and Wiggan each made 4 of 4 FTAs. Hill and Axani combined for 4 of 4 FTAs, including two old fashioned 3-point plays.
8. Quincy Douby. Douby has been too passive and too one-dimensional lately. Douby again looked tentative early, like he has for several games now, but settled into a nice rhythm. Douby was more aggressive against West Virginia, especially off the dribble. Three of Douby's six assists were realized off dribble penetration. Douby must use dribble penetration against zones. And work on a mid-range jumper.
9. Chicken Salad. Head Coach John Beilein has done a tremendous job getting six Big East wins out of the Mountaineers. West Virginia simply lacks talent. They have no good shooters other than Pittsnogle and Beilein. Fischer is the only real inside threat. The rest of West Virginia's offense is predicated upon motion. If they can't get open looks off screens and cuts, they struggle to score off jump shots. Yet, despite these obvious flaws, West Virginia is solidly in the middle of the pack in the Big East. Beilein was a candidate for the Rutgers job three years ago. While Beilein may be a good fit at West Virginia, which has always struggle to attract top talent, Beilein has yet to prove an ability to recruit. An ability that is essential to succeeding in a talent-rich state like New Jersey at a program like Rutgers. While I can admire the job Beilein has done with mess he inherited from former Mountaineer coach Gale Catlett, I haven't seen enough to convince me that the grass is greener in West Virginia.
10. Virginia Tech. After a week off, Virginia Tech is next on the schedule. This is an important game if not a big game. Rutgers needs to win at least three games in a row to make the NCAA tournament (I think it will require four in a row). If Rutgers is an NCAA team, it will win on the road in Blacksburg because the Hokies simply aren't very good. This game should be a fait accompli for a team flirting with the NCAA. And as such, can't be a "big" game. That many consider this to be a "big" game is evidence that Rutgers really is not an NCAA team. However, even if Rutgers stumbles later and doesn't get an NCAA bid, a second Big East road win will be a sign of progress for a team that won only one league road game in two years. So, in that sense, the game is important.
Rutgers played well against West Virginia. Much as it has at home all season. It's time for Rutgers to play well on the road. It is hard to get excited about post-season prospects – either NCAAs or NIT – until the Knights demonstrate that they can win on the road.
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