West Virginia's Psychological Battle An Issue Of Over-Thinking Crowding Out Focus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - As Phil Jackson often said, be a frog on a lily pad.

Actually, that quote doesn't most aptly capture the point West Virginia forward Elijah Macon made when he said the Mountaineers played better sans "a lot of stuff" on their mind. Jackson's quote was more about collective serenity and comfort within one's own environment. Macon's is more akin to the idea that throwing away zen mind is correct zen mind, or that we're most lost where the mind can't find us lost.

In a more visceral verbiage: Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club. In the battle of focus and paralysis via analysis, there can be only one.

"It's all mental. I feel like when we are not worried too much about who we play and just come out and do it, we play better that way," said Macon, himself known as a fan of meditation music and visualization. "I feel like when we have a lot of stuff on our mind, going into the games you might feel like don't do this, don't do that instead of playing and having fun. I feel like that's when we play our best."

Truth. West Virginia is at it's finest when it utilizes its arsenal with an unconscious mind. The almost imperceptive half slide to secure the trap. The feel for the proper positioning in cutting down passing angles. The instantaneous recognition of how the shot arc will carom off on the rebound. Do not learn how to react; learn how to respond. When WVU bogs down, it's never the physical aspect that initiates. It's the mental, the fog of haze then envelops, then morphs when the Mountaineers begin to consider each movement and moment instead of allowing one to flow into the next. Like a flip book, the goal is best realized via one smooth, continuous motion rather than a series of heavily considered smaller ones. 

"I'm not sure what they are thinking," Bob Huggins has said. "You're asking me to get inside their heads. I'm not sure I want to know."

Things better left. West Virginia has done its due diligence, both on itself and potential foes Texas and Texas Tech. There's a balance there as well, in focus on the self while also taking into consideration the time constraints and former unknown of which, exactly, opponent it will be. That turned out to be Texas, the beneficiary of a 61-52 victory in the opening round game Wednesday night by going to a 2-3 zone and piecing together a 12-2 run in the closing minutes.

"You prepare for both, obviously, but we are gonna watch the game and go from there," Macon said of WVU's prep for both Texas and Texas Tech. "We have been working on us and throwing in parts of both teams since we have played both in the regular season. We go hard regardless of who we are going to pay and we are competing how we are supposed to. For the last couple days we have been going at it, working on the stuff we need to work on to get better. The press, halfcourt defense, offense.

"Teams can play better at the beginning of the season, or better at the end. You have to pick and choose how they are playing, go off how they have been doing the last three to four games. We have watched a lot of film on that, how they have played the last three or four games. Then we watched film on ourselves and how we were playing and try and take things from that. It's going in with confidence, knowing we can win the game."

The other aspect, from a preparation standpoint, is getting a feel for the comfort level of the freshmen players, and guiding them with perspicacity as to what to expect during the postseason. And though one can prepare for such, the elements of change during game competition can be a difficult handle.

"Going in we want to let the younger guys know this is what it is all about," Macon said. "At the end of the season, this is what you want to win. Then going past this, you obviously want to go far in the NCAA Tournament. This is where it all begins. These next three games are big for us. It's obviously just letting them know you still can't take anybody lightly. You have to come out here and play every game like it is your last."

Because it well could be.

"It's nothing different. We've been in the same locker rooms, coming down the same hall way for the last three years," Macon said.

Perhaps there's a bit of insight in those words as well.


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