Shooting Woes

West Virginia has been a good shooting team for the most part under head coach John Beilein, but a recent cold streak has made the games of 2004 into either nailbiters or blowouts.

Make no mistake, West Virginia has some players that can shoot the ball. This year's Mountaineer team is a better shooting squad, or at least has the potential to be, that most WVU teams we've seen over the past 15-20 years. However, they haven't been able to put it together since the turn of the year, and that has put them on the defensive in the five games since January 7th.

In only one of those games (oddly enough, the loss to Virginia Tech) did the Mountaineers shoot the ball with their accustomed assuredness. WVU hit 55.6% of their tries from the field that evening, but still came away with a loss.

In WVU's other four games, they shot 36.8% (loss to Notre Dame), 35.6% win over Georgetown), 38.2% (loss to Providence) and 31.5% (win over Marshall). That West Virginia was able to squeak out two wins over that stretch says something about the improvement of their defense, but there's no doubt that the Mountaineers must shoot better (and probably close to the 50% mark) to stay in many of their remaining games.

Why the problems? Is it just a slump, or are their other factors at work? A combination of items, some of which don't play in to every game, are probably to blame, but no matter what the reasons, WVU must get them corrected or figure out a way around them in short order.

At Notre Dame, the Mountaineers fell behind early and couldn't keep pace with the Domers' inside attack, and had to jack up numerous three point attempts to try to get back in the contest. The same was true at Providence, where WVU couldn't get many good looks while the Friars shot the lights out early.

Against Georgetown, the Hoyas' pressure defense was a big factor. WVU spent so much time working the ball upfloor and trying to shake free of Hoya traps that they often took hurried shots, even when they were open. And against the Herd, the emotion and intensity of the evening took its toll on both teams. WVU scored just seven points in the final 7:05 of the game, while the Herd just six in the last 9:23.

Also figuring into the equation is the revamping of the WVU offense. While there haven't been any wholesale changes in the Mountaineer attack, there has been a subtle shift in the flow of the offense.

Before Drew Schifino left, much of the offense was run through the small forward position. An effort was made to get the ball in Schifino's hands (despite his complainings to the contrary) on most offensive trips.

Since his departure, however, the emphasis has been on trying to get more plays run through the post position. That's a good idea for several reasons, but it's not something that's going to run smoothly right off the bat. West Virginia (like many college teams) struggles to throw good passes into the post, and often misreads the defense as they try to determine, where, and when, to make an entry pass (more on this forthcoming in a future article).

So, as WVU fights to adjust their offense, they end up losing offensive chances (via increased turnovers) and have been forced to take more shot clock-beating heaves than at any time under Beilein's tenure in Morgantown. WVU doesn't have a player who can routinely break the defense down off the dribble, so they don't have the safety valve that can create a shot with the clock ticking down. That leads to tougher shots late in possessions, which naturally leads to lower shooting percentages.

The news isn't all bad, though. WVU does have the potential to revamp their offense and get back in a good offensive groove. Tyrone Sally is showing increased ability on drives, and Joe Herber is also trying to create off the bounce. D'or Fischer, when he gets the ball in the post, can be a good scorer, and Kevin Pittsnogle's shooting ability should be unquestioned. Jarmon Durisseau-Collins is hitting 50% of his shots, and might easily take 3-4 more per game.

If (or when) the offense begins to regain some of its former rhythm, shooting percentages should increase. But WVU also needs for some of their players to break out of the cold spells they have been mired in, and also be a bit more aggressive. Herber, for instance, has a great looking shot, but he's been the victim of more in-and-outs this year than can easily be counted. Herber can shoot the ball, and needs to keep shooting, and hit a few, especially from three-point range.

On the inside, WVU's big men need to be more aggressive in taking the ball to the basket. Both Fischer and Pittsnogle have either missed or had blocked an inordinate number of short tries this season. Rather than trying to lay the ball up softly, dunk attempts would likely serve them better in those situations, and at least be more likely to draw a foul.

WVU must also watch their shot selection, as they have, on occasion, taken some very quick shots, especially from long range. While the Mountaineers can't afford to pass up scoring opportunities, they also need to run their offense, which usually results in good looks at the basket.

None of these improvements are unachievable, but some will take more time than others, especially the redefining of offensive roles. Unfortunately for WVU, the out of conference schedule is now complete, and there's little time for refinement work. Their success in correcting these shooting woes that have plagued them recently will be the number one factor in determining their success for the remainder of the season.

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