As discussed yesterday, West Virginia's inability to play with energy in every game has been the deciding factor in most of its losses. It has also been a part of the Mountaineers' failure to consistently rebound the ball on the defensive end of the floor, but there are more items involved there – ones that have shown up in most every game, not just the losses.
Before we dive into those, a bit about rebounding in general. A commonly held perception is that gathering missed shots is all about effort. While that's a major factor, it's not the whole story. Boxing opponents out is very important, as it offsets the athleticism factor. Reading the shot and getting to the opposite side of the rim is important. Timing the jump for the ball seems simple, but is an ability that eludes some players. Long reach and high jumping also plays a role, especially in those 50-50 battles where no positioning advantage is reached.
All of those items are pointed out to reinforce the fact that there's no one magic secret to rebounding. The best board men have all of them – they are high jumpers with long reach, time the ball well as it bounces off to get it at maximum height, read the shot to get into the right spot, and screen foes away. Still, and perhaps above all, effort is the biggest factor, and that brings us back to West Virginia.
This, year, the Mountaineers have two players who consistently give maximum effort on rebounds – Nathan Adrian and Jevon Carter. Not surprisingly, Adrian is the top rebounder on the team (6.4) per game), while Carter (4.3) is tied for second. Granted, they do have more minutes on the floor in which to gather rebounds, but their minutes per game are fueled, in part, by their willingness to go after the ball. Neither has all of the rebounding talents listed above, but they make up for that by going after the ball, no matter where it comes off the rim or board.
This tenacity and its corollary, “out-of-area” rebounding, are the things that are harming West Virginia's defensive rebounding the most. For most of the team, a rebound that doesn't come directly at them isn't viewed as an opportunity – instead, it's usually just viewed. There's just too much standing and watching, and when combined with the lack of timing and other abilities listed above, the result is predictable. Offensive boards are gathered by the bad guys, and often result in points.
The genesis of this problem is difficult to pinpoint. Perhaps, after a year of watching while Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton competed relentlessly for each rebound, standing and watching became something of a habit. Newcomers and first year players who were used to simply being better than everyone else in high school haven't made the transition to bulldog-determined efforts on every missed shot. Some, as one Mountaineer said after the embarrassing nine-defensive rebound effort against Oklahoma State, are more interested in getting out on the fast break than in first securing the ball. But whatever the reason, the fact is that WVU is getting beaten badly on the defensive boards. Opponents are grabbing 35% of the available misses on their end of the court, nearly negating a huge advantage that the Mountaineers usually hold over their foes. WVU has gotten 39% on its offensive shots, but that margin has been much greater in past seasons.
The good news is that a fix can be had. It doesn't require the Mountaineers to start jumping higher or increase their wingspans. They don't have to sprout a build like that of Williams. They simply have to compete for every rebound, no matter where it is. All five players on the court have to box out, or step into a gap for mid-range caroms. Frontcourt players cant chase blocked shots that totally remove them from rebounding position. All of these things are fixable. However, they all depend on “want to”. Centers and forwards have to go get the ball wherever it bounces. Guards can't leak out. As much effort has to be put into securing a defensive rebound as a drive to the hoop or a sprint down the court.
WVU has the talent to rebound. That's evident from a look at the offensive rebounding totals it produces. It has racked up 345 boards on the offensive end to date, as opposed to 503 on the defensive side. The former number is great, but the latter is not – and that explains why the Mountaineers' overall rebounding advantage has slipped to just +2.3. If they apply the same aggressiveness on the defensive end as they do on the offensive glass, they can correct this glaring weakness. But it all depends on their willingness to do so.