Lost In Transition

Head coach Bob Huggins wants his West Virginia basketball team to push the ball in transition. But until his players show the ability to execute the fundamentals of fast breaks, he might as well instruct his team to walk the ball up the floor.

Over the past few seasons, Huggins has set the goal of getting the ball upcourt quickly off defensive rebounds and steals, in order to get uncontested shots and buttress his team's scoring totals. Many of his WVU squads have had difficulty in shooting the ball and scoring consistently, and the easiest way to fix that shortcoming is to get easy buckets out in front of the defense. (Of course, getting better shooters is another remedy, but so far West Virginia hasn't been able to get enough of those either.)

Early in Huggs' tenure, WVU couldn't run because it didn't have the personnel. It lacked bigger players to grab rebounds and start fast breaks, and it also didn't have enough guards with the ability to push the ball upcourt while keeping control of it. Running with some of those early Huggins teams simply wasn't an option, at least on a consistent basis.

Over the past couple of seasons, Huggins has reiterated his desire to get his team into early offense, and has worked diligently on that in practice sessions. With bigger bodies, the expectation was that WVU would be better on the defensive boards, and the presence of multiple guards with playmaking ability also seemed to indicate that West Virginia was finally primed to put up some early-opportunity baskets. However, another problem has since reared its head – one that the veteran head coach has been unable to solve. His team simply doesn't have a good grasp of how to execute in transition.

On the surface, it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that players raised on the run-and-gun AAU style don't know how to run a fast break. The thing, is, though, that just running up and down the floor, not playing defense and leaking out early for long passes and acrobatic jams simply don't have much to do with fast breaking in a team environment. There are a number of fundamentals that go into a successful transition effort, and WVU has yet to exhibit the ability to make any of them work consistently.

The first fundamental is spreading the floor. Whether it's a two-on-one, a three-on-two, or any other situation where there's a numbers advantage, the offensive players must spread out and run in different lanes. Creating space makes it impossible for a defender to cover two different players at once, and with a good pass an open shot usually results. West Virginia has been o.k., but certainly not great, in this part of the break. At times it spreads well, but at others it gets two players together, nullifying their numbers advantage.

Another item is attacking defenders and forcing them to commit. When there aren't enough defenders to cover everyone, players will try to hedge and not commit to just on offensive player, They'll play off a dribble a step or two, and try to create time to get to another player if the ball is passed, or delay the ballhandler until help arrives. West Virginia has been very poor in making defenders commit, and even when it does, the wrong choice is often made on passing vs. shooting. Instead of getting lay-ups and dunks, West Virginia often winds up with contested shots – and that's not the point of getting into transition in the first place.

WVU's passing in transition is also sketchy. You can't just throw the ball to someone else. Passes must be made where the recipient can catch it and do something with it. Throwing the ball at Deniz Kilicli's shins while he's running the lane isn't going to yield a successful result. Neither is tossing it to a guard who's in the paint with a 6-8 defender on him. Both of those mistakes, and many more like them, have been on display this year.

There are other errors that can be defined in West Virginia's running game, but the point should be clear by now. Until (or unless), the Mountaineers can correct these problems and run fast breaks in a fundamentally sound manner, they will continue to lose points that should have been on the board. Without them, it won't be a surprise to see losses continue to pile up.

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