While much analysis of WVU's inability to consistently score on chances in the lane and close to the rim starts and stops with "they can't shoot", the reasons are much more varied than that. There are faults up and down the lineup, from perimeter players to paint denizens, and all contribute to West Virginia's inability to take advantages of its point-blank scoring opportunities. Converting on those chances requires good execution in several areas, and West Virginia simply doesn't string those together enough to make foes pay for the defensive decisions they make.
POSTING UP There's a series of techniques to getting position inside, but West Virginia's post players don't consistently execute them. For example, one of the fundamentals of getting position involves the offensive player getting a defender pinned with his backside or hip. West Virginia players do that sometimes, but some do so with their arms as well, which puts them in poor position to catch the ball, as their hands are down or behind them when the ball is passed. Others don't hold their position well and get shoved out of the spot they worked to establish, and thus aren't in the spot they were in when the ball was passed inside. While this isn't the biggest problem in West Virginia's inside scoring game, it does at times contribute to the turnovers that are plaguing the team.
ENTRY PASSES In a word, they border on horrific. Many potential scoring chances are wasted because passes come too late or are way off target. As head coach Bob Huggins noted after Saturday's loss to Baylor, it's tough to expect a Brandon Watkins or a Elijah Macon to scoop up a pass that hits them at ankle height. In that game, a number of passes were also forced to players that weren't open, or to players that were in an established position but then gave up their angles (see next item), allowing the defense to get a hand on the pass or steal it outright. Even worse, a number of times passes aren't made at all to open guys on the blocks or in the lane, which is extremely frustrating to those that have worked hard to establish position. The sum of all these errors? WVU gets less of out the times it does get good position than any team in the league. And many times, it starts with perimeter players not getting the ball to their teammates inside.
RECEIVING THE PASS When West Virginia's big men do get good position, they sometimes waste that work. On at least two trips during the recent Baylor game, Mountaineer post men established position and pinned their defenders, but then for some reason continued to move. On one occasion, a posted up WVU player turned his body 90 degrees, thus removing the best angle for the entry pass and allowing the defender to step over the top and steal the pass. Add in fumbles of good passes that do reach their targets, and WVU burns a number of chances that should result in shots, but don't.
MAKING A MOVE/TAKING THE SHOT Errors in this category really hurt. When all goes well -- the initial post/pin, reversing the ball, a good pass that is caught -- a score should result at least 65-70% of the time, if not more. However, WVU's rate doesn't come close to this, and again it's fundamental errors that are at the root of the problem. First, Mountaineer bigs have a distressing habit of putting the ball on the floor or bringing it down low. Granted, there are times when one power dribble is required to make a move to the hoop or establish better position, but there are many others when it is not. Still, Mountaineers in the lane often put the ball down for all to take a swipe at -- and almost as often it gets knocked away.
There's also the problem of rushed shots. These are a particular problem, as players hurry to get a shot away for fear of it getting blocked, but the result is usually an off-target heave at the rim rather than a strong move to the hoop or a soft jump hook.
The sum of all these post issues has a huge effect on West Virginia's scoring. As Noted in our print edition of the Blue & Gold News this week, the Mountaineers were 16-39 on shots in the lane and on the blocks against Baylor, and that didn’t include the lost chances due to turnovers. WVU’s bigs had 11 giveaways, and while not all of them may have been deep in the paint, many were. So, out of a conservative estimate of 45 chances to score in the lane, the Mountaineers converted on barely a third of them. Simply boosting that number to 50% (still a low conversion percentage) would have put West Virginia right in the game against the Bears.
This shouldn't be taken as an attack on West Virginia's post players. As noted, perimeter players contribute to the lack of scoring conversions inside too. The question is, can it be fixed? Many of the solutions to these problems aren't dependent on athletic skill. They can be fixed with better judgment, better decision-making and the application of "basketball IQ" -- that innate understanding of the game and how to play it. Often, such qualities come with repetition, but are there enough practice and game reps left to improve in this area? If there are, WVU could boost its scoring and offensive efficiency dramatically -- and all without making one more jumper.