Early Shortcomings Reversed in West Virginia's Win Over #1 Kansas

West Virginia's win over top-ranked Kansas hinged on a reversal of shortcomings in the first few minutes of the contest – and provide insight into the ways the Mountaineers can overcome the one flaw in their game that likely can't be fixed this season.

For the first five minutes of West Virginia's 74-63 win over the Jayhawks, it was as if the Mountaineers hadn't paid a bit of attention to the scouting report. KU got off five 3-point shots in that span (making three) as WVU failed to close out on shooters. That Kansas came into the game as one of the best distance shooting teams in the country was certainly well-known, but the Mountaineers let Wayne Selden and Devonte Graham fire away with near-impunity.

Also evident during that stretch – and for even a bit longer – was WVU's near-absence of offensive rebounding. Jevon Carter was credited with an offensive rebound and a score with just more than two minutes elapsed, but it was really more of a steal than a rebound, as a Kansas player had both hands on the ball after a running down a Devin Williams miss. The Mountaineers didn't get their second board on that end until the 12:59 mark, and the two following were credited as team and dead ball efforts. It wasn't until Elijah Macon snared an errant Daxter Miles jumper and scored at the 10:40 mark that the Mountaineers got their first clean snare and putback of the game.

From that point, on, however, WVU made a huge turnaround in both areas, and it was reflected on the scoreboard. Trailing 14-9, the Mountaineers embarked on an 18-5 run that gave them an eight-point lead, and despite a couple of Kansas forays they remained in control from that point on. WVU finished with 15 offensive rebounds (opposed to just seven for KU), and forced the Jayhawks into a mid-game stretch in which they made just three of their ten long-distance efforts. Only a late-game flurry, in which the visitors made four of their final five threes (including a desperation bank shot) pushed them back into their normal success range.

There weren't any big secrets to the turnaround. Defensively, WVU recovered and closed out on shooters more effectively. While still trapping at times in the backcourt, the Mountaineers didn't run and jump into traps at the half-court line as much as they usually do, which allowed them to fan out and get to shooters better. Kansas' passing, which is excellent, was never able to consistently break down the defense and get shooters open.

“We tried to run them off the line,” head coach Bob Huggins said afterward, referring to the tactic of getting defenders out on shooters at the arc in order to make them go elsewhere to find shots. “It's hard to come out of pressure and find people, but I thought we did a better job as the game wore on.”

Given KU's shooting and passing prowess, that was something of an understatement. If WVU can execute in the same manner against other teams that pass the ball well (looking at you, Iowa State), the Mountaineers will have a much better chance of getting wins.

On the offensive end, effort and activity might have been the keys in retrieving missed shots. While WVU admittedly gives itself more chances than many teams to retrieve balls on the offensive end, largely because it misses a lot of shots, it simply wasn't getting to the rim much early. Forward Jonathan Holton, who counts 67 offensive boards among his 117 total grabs this year, notes that “just being active” is his key to getting on the glass. After a slow start, he finished with four against Kansas, joining Jaysean Paige (three) and Elijah Macon (two) among those Mountaineers with multiple boards. Every player on the home team but one grabbed an offensive rebound, showing that it's not just the big guys who can have an impact in that most critical of WVU stat areas.

These twin factors helped West Virginia overcome a stat that it will likely be plagued with the for the rest of the year: low shooting percentages. While there may be games here or there where it puts up good to great numbers, its rare when a team makes a quantum leap in a statistical area halfway through the season. In this game, the number was really low – 33% – largely due to a huge number of missed lay-ups and shots from the lane and low blocks. WVU was just 16-39 on such attempts, and that's a figure that will usually lead to a loss. Still, the Mountaineers played so well in every other area that it was able to overcome it.

Going forward, you can't expect WVU to excel in just about every area, as it did against, KU, but it would also be safe to assume that it won't miss 23 shots that occur within two feet, either. The Mountaineers aren't going to be a 50% team from the field, but if it can hover around 45% in league play, they are going to be very difficult to beat.


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