Get the Ball!

At every one of my daughter's youth league basketball games, the cry of "Get the ball!" rings out over the court. I found myself yelling the exact same phrase during WVU's loss to Seton Hall on Saturday.

Many Mountaineer fans might assume I was giving those instructions due to WVU's lack of height and bulk, which often leads to a deficit on the backboards. However, on this afternoon, West Virginia battled the Pirates to a draw on the glass. The thing that prompted my frustration was WVU's refusal to secure loose basketballs with fundamentally sound play.

Time after time, "50-50 balls" (so-called by head coach John Beilein because each team has a 50-50 chance of getting it) went to the Pirates due to the manner in which West Virginia went after it. Instead of grabbing the ball with both hands and securing it, the Mountaineers often tried to recover balls by dribbling them. Ugh.

As everyone should know (and I'm trying to drill it into my daughter's head as well), you have a much better chance of grabbing a free ball by using both hands and securing it. Trying to get it under control by dribbling it just isn't as sure as using both hand to snare it. Yet there were the Mountaineers time and again trying to recover the rock with a maneuver that I've outlawed for my seven-year old.

Besides building my frustration level, that move resulted in several extra possessions for the Pirates, and there's no doubt that they played a huge role in WVU's loss. It's something that needs to be corrected, and quickly, if West Virginia is to have any success in the Big East tournament.

That leads to a second problem - WVU's struggles in catching and dribbling the ball. The Mountaineers dropped routine passes, passes coming off screens, passes in the open court - you name it, and West Virginia players seemed to fumble it. Whether it was a lack of concentration, rust from the layoff, an unfamiliar ball, I don't know, but I do know that several offensive opportunities were missed because various players couldn't seem to find a good handle on the cowhide.

It's not as if this was an isolated incident, either. Beilein noted earlier in the season that his team has problems catching and securing the ball, and that he had devoted some practice time to correcting that problem. Unfortunately, "good hands" aren't something that can be taught. While Beilein is a wizard at teaching fundamentals and coaxing improvement from his players (who would have ever thought Tyrone Sally would be a three point threat?), I'm not sure if even he has enough tricks in his bag to make a major improvement in this area.

When the Mountaineers tip off the Big East tournament at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, it probably won't take long to see if this bugaboo is going to rear its ugly head again. When WVU has had trouble handling the ball, it has typically been evident from the outset of the contest. And if it follows West Virginia back to New York, I'm going to be making another one-night stand in the Big Apple.

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