West Virginia Knocks Out UL-Monroe's Zone Via Shooting, Ball Movement

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia used 15 three-pointers, including four each from Daxter Miles, Jevon Carter and Jaysean Paige, to bust Louisiana Monroe's zone and, in the process, perhaps serve notice that these Mountaineers can shoot.

Head coach Bob Hugins has insisted this WVU team could shoot, and indeed had in practices. But the Mountaineers hadn't showed nearly as much consistency - unless it was the maddening consistency of more misses than expected - in live action until this point, when they hit 15 of a season-high 36 threes. The attempts were 11 more than the year's previous best at 25 in the opener against Northern Kentucky, when West Virginia scored 107 points. The third-highest total? The 21 taken against Stetson in another 100-plus point burst, this a 103-62 romp. There's certain correlation. WVU's three highest point totals of the season were also in games hwere it took its most three-pointers. But the causation, and that's the real aspect to watch, appears left a bit wanting.

West Virginia had far more shots overall in those games, mainly because of a domination on the offensive glass, and added even more opportunities via turnovers in the press. The foes were less skilled than some of the major nonconference tests like Richmond, San Diego State and Virginia, and it reasons that the Mountaineers used their better talent and honed skill to glean better looks from both inside and out. But WVU also took, especially against ULM, what it was given as the Warhawks packed the paint and essentially forced WVU to prove it could bust the zone by hitting threes. That happened, but it took the first seven minutes, plus one mass substitution by Huggins, for West Virginia to begin to find the mark.

WVU missed seven of their first nine threes, but got three ofensive rebounds, eventually scoring on each, to offset the early 22.2 percent from three. And that's very much a point Huggins made in the postgame, that indeed he doesn't mind the shots as long as they are ones the Mountaineers can rebound. That makes it very much about intelligent shot selection and understanding where one is on the floor in relation to teammates and the opposition, while also factoring shot clock, score, situation, etc. It is, essentially, the essence of having a solid basketball IQ. West Virginia used its passing nad ball movement to get excellent looks, many of the step-in variety, and Paige and Carter found the range and began to blister the zone approach.

That doesn't imply that WVU operates like this in an every-game basis. The Mountaineers dusted off a few of Huggins' zone-based offensive sets, things seldom used this season but ones in the Huggins arsenal for more than 30 years, according to the coach. But the dynamic makes for something to watch as the season progresses. How does West Virginia generate its shots in the halfcourt, and then how efficient can it be when both field goal percentage and offensive rebounding, and resulting scoring off that, are factored. If the Mountaineers can continue to hit at a 34 percent clip from three-point range, the number often bandied about by Huggins when pressed for numerics, it will be incredibly difficult to beat. If that sinks down into the 25 percent range from three, WVU is going to struggle to score eneough even off the defnse against higher caliber competition. Thus far, West Virgina has connected on 52-of-173 threes, a 30.1 percent clip. It is holding foes to 22.4 percent at 32-of-143.

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