"Having too many players is always one of our biggest concerns," assistant coach Jeff Neubauer told BlueGoldNews.com. "The one season that we struggled at Richmond, we had too many players. Trying to keep a lot of guys happy is always hard. That's going to be out biggest challenge."
Of course, Neubauer isn't complaining about that issue. It's a good problem to have, and one that the WVU coaching staff will find a resolution for. One method that immediately springs to mind is using players at more than one spot, but Neubauer notes that due to the complexity of West Virginia's offense, that isn't always an option.
John Beilein's attack is a side ranging plan that incorporates parts of several different offensive schemes. And while that gives WVU a great deal of flexibility in devising game plans for opponents of differing styles, it also puts a heavier demand on the players, who must read, think and react quickly during games. (It's also a big reason Beilein recruits players who are good students – there's no room for players who aren't intelligent in this system.) That complexity means that players usually aren't ready to play more than one position until later in their careers.
"There are only a couple of guys that are going to play multiple positions this year," Neubauer observer. "Obviously Kevin Pittsnogle is going to play both the four and the five, and then Joe Herber may be the guy that plays at both guard and forward. Since most of the players can concentrate on just one spot, it is easier for them, because they are going to know their position better. They aren't going to be caught up in learning two or three different positions. But, finding enough minutes to keep everyone happy is a challenge.
The other player destined for duty at more than one spot is veteran Tyrone Sally, who will also play some of the four in addition to his normal three slot. Neubauer notes, however, that those two positions are more similar than any other two on the floor.
"One thing to remember there is that our four and three are very similar. Tyrone has played both in his career here, but we kind of consider that the same position. Tyrone has been in the program long enough to have a great feel for what we do, so he'll play both of those spots."
Despite his year spent in the program as a transfer, Mike Gansey will concentrate on just the three position. After returning from the summer European trip, head coach John Beilein noted that Gansey didn't really know the system yet, and although he appears suited to pull double duty in the manner of Herber, he's not ready to pull double duty.
That might seem a bit odd – after all, Gansey has been in the program for a year and is by all accounts an excellent student who picks things up quickly on the floor. Beilein, however, noted that during Gansey's transfer year, he concentrated mostly on skills work. Did that mean Gansey didn't get any benefit of learning the system at all last year?
Not at all, according to Neubauer, who explained the staff's philosophy on working with transfers and redshirts who aren't eligible to play. The time constraints of getting a team ready to play, coupled with the fact that the transfers and redshirts are on the scout team running opposing team's offenses, doesn't leave a great deal of time to work with them on the ins and outs of WVU's system. However, that doesn't mean last year was a loss for Gansey, B.J. Byerson and Nick Patella, all of who sat out the season.
"Being around the system for that year, even though they don't get the chance to run it very much, helps them pick it up, Neubauer said. "Even though Mike Gansey doesn't know the system right now the way Tyrone Sally knows it, Mike knows it a lot better than an incoming freshman. B.J. Byerson, even though he doesn't know the system, knows it a lot better than he did it a year ago. "You can only learn so much in practice, and you can only cover so much during a practice session," Neubauer continued. "We depend a lot on our scout team to win games right now, and that's an important part of the way we do things. That does give up a little bit of their learning at that point, but I think it's the right way to do things. We develop skills, the scout team helps us win, and they can still pick up some of the system. It might be a little slower than if they were in the mix, but they do pick it up.
"Right now, because Mike is still new to the program, he's learning one position, the three. Mike right now will be the top guy on the 1-3-1 defense, and Tyrone will play both the top and the wing. Mike doesn't necessarily play the top because he's better than Tyrone, but because it's simpler for Mike to learn one spot. Tyrone has been in the program for three years, and he knows how to play in more than one place."
With that philosophy in place (one which they successfully employed at Richmond), look for West Virginia to continue its steady improvement through the season. And although coaches are often reluctant to use a better won-loss record as a measure of improvement, Neubauer admits that is one of the standards he'll be employing this year.
"Sometimes judging improvement is hard to define. We always want to get better every day, and we want to be better at the end of the season than at the beginning. Hopefully we will be better in March than we were when we started in November. Because we went to Europe this year, a lot of our improvement this year should be measured in wins. Sometimes that tough for a coach to say, because there are so many things that factor into winning a game. We have a veteran team that has been to Europe and has been together for three years now running our system. We feel good about the group and the team chemistry, and hopefully that equates to wins."