It is very easy to lob praise in the direction of Mountaineer Head Basketball Coach John Belein and his staff. Even the most casual observer can see some of the most obvious changes in the basketball program in less than two years.
In my book it isn't his system, which is hard to defend, especially if you are an up and down the floor type of team that gets impatient at WVU's willingness to drain every nanosecond out of every shot clock.
It also isn't the coach's willingness to let everyone on the team jack up the three ball if an open shot presents itself. Heck, as a descendent of some Kentucky grads, my favorite coaching line of all time came from Rick Pitino, when standing on the sidelines during a big game, next to his center who was wide open 21 feet from the rim. "Shoot it, or transfer."
No, in my book, it is discipline. Now, we aren't talking about screaming and yelling, throwing chairs, storming out of practice boot camp type of discipline. We are talking about making the players accountable for their actions on the court.
And nowhere was that more evident than in the St. Louis game on Tuesday evening. Obviously frustrated, and suffering through a first half where he could not get his hands on the ball, much less an open shot, WVU leading scorer Drew Schifino took a pass in transition and chucked up a missile that would have hurt the children sitting behind the basket if it weren't for the protection of the backboard. It took Coach B all of two seconds to get Franklin Young off the bench. At the next dead ball, Drew was riding pine for the next five to six minutes of the first half.
And what did Coach B do? Well, he certainly didn't lay a chokehold on him or kick him or throw a chair at him, unlike some other famous disciplinarian who now resides in the heart of Texas. I don't know what was said, but I can tell you it wasn't harsh, it was very calm, and there was no argument.
Not only did Young come in and make his biggest contribution of his young career, but Schifino came out of the locker room at halftime well rested, and turned back into the unstoppable force we all know him to be.
That is the team's star player. Do you think that message might get across to the rest of the team? Not that I think they are in need of that message, but it always helps to send a reminder.
Tyler Relph is already emerging as a more than solid option at point guard for the Mountaineers. Coach Belein stated in his press conference after the game that he is just as confident in his shooting ability from NBA range as he is from the college line.
So don't be so surprised when you see him in person for the first time jacking one up from five to seven feet beyond the arc. Especially when he nails it.
Relph hit a huge three pointer from way downtown to stall a strong Billiken charge Tuesday night, but in my book that wasn't his most impressive play.
What I thought said it all about the coaching staff's confidence in Relph came with 2:51 remaining in the contest, when St. Louis had cut the WVU lead back to seven points after two Josh Fisher free throws. Coach Belein, expecting the Billies to press, inserted Relph in the lineup to bring the ball up against the press. WVU got the ball right to Tyler, and he brought it right up the floor and got it to Schifino who drained a jumper and was fouled. In case you hadn't noticed, that is the fourth year in a row WVU has had a true freshman point guard in the game at crunch time. Only this time he isn't in because we don't have any other options. He's in there because the coaching staff has confidence in him. Impressive.
D'or Fisher is getting a lot of attention for his shot blocking. What he isn't getting a lot of attention for is his shooting. During the first half of the St. Louie game Fisher pulled up from 18 to take a wide-open jumper. I could distinctly hear from right behind me three different people groan aloud that he had no business taking that shot. Alas, it went in. Look for more of that. Kevin Pittsnogle isn't the only big man on the team who can shoot the rock from the outside.
Speaking of Pittsnogle, it was great to see him get off to a quick start against the Billikens on Tuesday. He didn't look like himself against Northeastern in Morgantown last Saturday, but he sure looked to be back to form in the Charleston Civic Center. Perfect from the floor, perfect from the line. Perfect is really a bit much to expect, but it sure is nice to watch.
It was also interesting to see the combinations employed by Coach B during last Tuesday's game as compared to just three days earlier. KP and D'or spent very little time on the floor together at all on Tuesday evening, while on Saturday they played as a combo quite a bit. Coach B stated his intent was to give both of them more rest during the game, and it seemed to work like a charm. Here is the line from the five hole for the game: 23 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, a steal and two turnovers. 100% from the field, 100% from the line.
Tyrone Salley became the workhorse in the rotation for the Mountaineers on Tuesday. Tyrone played a team high 37 minutes against St. Louis. His nine points and five boards went a long way to helping WVU salt away the Billikens. I do think the lack of rest took its toll on his free throw shooting and possibly caused a couple of his turnovers. But he played like a warrior, and that is the type of play we will need during conference play.
Pat Belein, the object of some very harsh criticism last season for his quick trigger from all points in bounds, played 12 minutes and didn't take a shot. He was credited with a turnover and a rebound. The turnover was an absolutely horrid call that occurred right in front of the BGN Staff. Belein drove the lane and ended up in heavy traffic. He took a pump fake, and the defender following him left his feet and came down on Pat's back, forcing him off his feet. John Clougherty called him for traveling.
Speaking of Clougherty, I had a nice quick conversation with him, DURING play. In the midst of some really rough play that was let go on both sides, two persons sitting directly behind me, one on each side, were giving ole John the business over a no-call where Joe Herber was steamrolled on the way to a SLU bucket. During a timeout after said play, Clougherty turned to me and asked:"Aren't the fouls 7-2?" referring to WVU's 7-2 advantage in team fouls. Which was actually a very witty response to the heckling.
What sailed right over his head was the fact that the fouls should have been more like 20-5 at that point of the half.
Now I realize that the Temple game was sparsely attended, and people who came as a group, yet don't have tickets together would like to find a spot to sit with each other.
Personally I don't care if you are with 25 family members whom you haven't seen in 10 years, you don't cruise up to the 50-yard line and take over an entire section. It is rude, and you don't belong. And I don't care how much room there is on either side of my seats. You are in my seats. My seats that I have jacked out the required contribution for at my current seating location for six straight football seasons, including ticket price and the added bonus Blue Lot passes.
Get out of my seats and don't give me any stuff about it.
Pitt still isn't it.
Virginia Tech is once again the fourth place finisher in the Big East.
The Mountaineers are the 2003 Big East Conference Football Co-Champions. Make sure everyone you know, read, talk to or write to understands that.