TEN THOUGHTS ON THE WEST VIRIGNIA GAME
Team Chernobyl continued its march towards its density with a 76-58 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown. The outcome was never in doubt from midway though the 1st Half. Both teams struggled to score in the opening minutes against the opponent's trapping zone defense as the lead changed hands five times. West Virginia eventually solved the Rutgers zone and used a flurry of 3-pointers to open a 10-point lead, 28-18, at 7:00. The Mountaineers led 37-28 at halftime. West Virginia attacked the Rutgers pressure much more aggressively in the 2nd Half. While the Mountaineers only made two FGAs in the first ten minutes of the half, they made ten FTAs while extending their lead to 17, 57-40. Rutgers scored seven consecutive points to trim the deficit to ten at 57-47 with 8:00 remaining. However, West Virginia answered with a 12-1 run to put the game away. Here are ten thoughts on the West Virginia game.
1. Road Kill. The loss dropped Rutgers Head Coach Gary Waters' Big East road record to 2-29. In the preseason and again before conference play, many Rutgers fans identified West Virginia as one of three likely Big East road wins for a Scarlet Knight team coming off an appearance in the NIT finals and, during the non-conference schedule, wins at Charlotte and Kansas State. Those fans forgot that the NIT was not played before a single hostile crowd. West Virginia had not won a conference game by more than five points. They seemed ripe. Nonetheless, the Mountaineers cruised to their third largest margin of victory since they joined the Big East.
2. Blame the Refs. West Virginia took a nine-point halftime lead without attempting a single free throw because their FG shooting was unconscious. Rutgers limited West Virginia to 35% FG shooting in the 2nd Half but the Mountaineers made 18 of 22 FTAs. Afterwards, Waters complained about the referees and the FTA discrepancy. As I watched the game, I did not perceive imbalanced officiating. West Virginia got to the free throw line because they attacked the basket; Rutgers didn't because they didn't. Period. End of controversy. Gary whined about four or five instances where a Scarlet Knight was knocked down and wasn't awarded FTAs. Fine. Ten extra FTAs might produce eight extra points. And Rutgers still loses by ten. The referees didn't cost Rutgers the game. It was something else.
3. Talent Gap. Well, if the officials weren't the difference in the game, then it must have been the talent gap, right? After all, West Virginia has won eight Big East games this season. They are assured of at least a 0.500 record in conference play. However, looking at the West Virginia roster, I don't see a talent gap. Rutgers doesn't have a center to match either Kevin Pittsnogle or D'or Fischer. However, the rest of the Mountaineers aren't very quick, strong, or athletic. Yet they won by 18 points. Because they can shoot the ball. The biggest difference between West Virginia and Rutgers is that West Virginia runs an offensive system that creates good shots for the Mountaineers while Rutgers improvises shots one-on-one. West Virginia screens, cuts, and passes. Rutgers lobs, holds, and dribbles. Rutgers shoots contested shots. Their opponents shoot open shots. Thus, that difference in quality of shots allowed West Virginia to steadily pull away. The Mountaineers outscored Rutgers by nine points in the 1st Half and another nine in the second.
4. Trapping Zone. Waters employed a four-guard lineup with a trapping 2-3 zone defense. The four-guard lineup was not a problem because West Virginia lacks the size to exploit a smaller lineup. The problem was that the Scarlet Knight defense overcommitted and allowed too many uncontested shots when it didn't force TOs. And when the defense forced a TO, Rutgers did not convert the mistake into points. West Virginia committed nine TOs in the 1st Half but Rutgers scored only two points off those TOs. West Virginia also shot 58% on FGAs and a whopping 64% on 3PAs. The Mountaineers are a fundamentally sound team. I'm not quite sure why Waters chose to pressure a team with the skills to beat the pressure and convert the resulting open shots. It was a curious decision and it killed Rutgers in the 1st Half.
5. 60-Point Barrier. For the fifth time in league play, the Scarlet Knights failed to score more than 60 points. For the ninth consecutive game, Rutgers failed to score 30 points in the 1st Half. Rutgers scored only 28 points in the 1st Half against West Virginia while the Mountaineers scored 37 points. Waters lacks the defense and rebounding needed to win low-scoring slogging matches. It's virtually impossible to win in the Big East without breaking 70 points. Those who defend Waters and insist that the Coach does implement an offensive scheme aren't paying attention to the scores. Or the FG%s. The Scarlet Knights shot 36% in a road game that was winnable. Again, it goes back to an offense that lobs passes, hold the ball, and dribbles aimlessly. Allowing opposing defenses the time to react and get a hand in the shooter's face.
6. Marquis Webb. Ricky Shields and Quincy Douby finally both played well simultaneously. They scored 32 points on 29 FGA equivalents (FGAs and FTAs). However, third-leading scorer Ollie Bailey played only 13 minutes as the odd man out in a four-guard lineup. Bailey scored only three points on five FGA equivalents. With four guards on the floor, a third guard was needed to pick up the slack for Bailey. The most obvious candidate was Webb. Marquis played 30 minutes but attempted only 3 FGAs and scored only three points. Yet another instance where Webb let his teammates down. If Marquis isn't going to shoot and cannot score, then Manny Quezada should see more playing time at Webb's expense. Quezada may be a defensive liability, but Webb is an offensive liability. What Quezada would cost at one end, he could make up at the other. And light a fire under Webb in the process.
7. Juel Wiggan. In the absence of other scoring options, Juel again tried to pick up the slack but played beyond his limitations. He played 30 minutes and attempted nine FGAs. However, he scored only four point (2 of 9 FGAs and 0 of 1 3PA). He forced too many shots and committed too many TOs (three). However, one can't blame Wiggan. At least he's trying. There were no other options with Bailey on the bench and Webb invisible.
8. Ollie Bailey. Bailey did not start in Waters' four-guard lineup. Rather, Ollie backed up Byron Joynes at center. It was a curious choice given that Bailey is a much better scorer than Joynes and West Virginia starter Kevin Pittsnogle is not a low post threat. Bailey was frequently matched up against 6'-11" Fischer. Ollie was unable to shoot over the Mountaineer shot blocker. Bailey needs to develop his low post game and learn how to use his quickness and shoulders to create space and get off shots. A left hand is critical. Right now, he is forcing ridiculously bad shots from good position because he hasn't learned how to create space for his shots.
9. Contesting Shots. With 7:00 remaining in the 1st Half and coming out of a TV timeout, Pittsnogle took a pass on the perimeter, gave Joynes a ball fake, and drove past him for an uncontested dunk. What I found more troubling about the Pittsnogle dunk was not that Byron bit on a pump fake for the blow by. Rather, it was the way four other Scarlet Knights admired Pittsnogle's form on an uncontested dunk off a 20-foot drive. Nobody rotated to challenge Pittsnogle. This has been a symptomatic problem with the Rutgers defense all season. Defensive rotations are late. Or non-existent. The Scarlet Knights don't challenge shots. I noticed this tendency against Seton Hall. Opponents get uncontested dunks and layups while hammering the Scarlet Knights at the other end. Where is the tough defense that Waters preaches?
10. Specter of Littlepage. When Gary Waters was hired to replace Kevin Bannon, expectations were that he would have Rutgers in the NCAA tournament by Year Four. Or, at the very least, right on the verge. Waters flirted with the NCAAs in Year One and again in Year Three. However, his recruiting debacles and program mismanagement have put Rutgers way behind schedule. In Year Four, the program is increasingly being compared to that of former Scarlet Knight Head Coach Craig Littlepage, whose three-year reign of error and 23-63 (0.261 winning percentage) was the worst coaching tenure in the past 90 years. Fewest wins at the RAC since ‘Page. Fewest total wins since Page. The worst margin of defeat at the RAC. Ever (worse than Page!). Fewest Big East wins (worse than Page's successors). In Year Four, Waters should not be drawing comparisons to the worst coach in modern Rutgers history. Yet there are the comparisons. Which way is this program headed? Anybody for another contract extension?
Please send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome and appreciate your feedback. And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss Rutgers basketball with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.