Slow Starts

Left in the blocks. Frozen at the gates. Slow off the line. Pick your metaphor, and it can be applied to both the men's and women's basketball teams at West Virginia this year.

Despite radically different seasons, both squads have been plagued by the huge burden of poor starts in the opening minutes of games this year.

Time and again, the Mountaineers are trailing by six, eight or ten points before the few fans in attendance are settled into their seats, and many times those early deficits have been too much to overcome for either squad. Double digit halftime deficits have been the norm for both teams, and there are only so many second half rallies in anyone's gym bag.

On the men's side, the early deficits are a bit easier to explain. As the losing has grown to near record proportions, it's simple to see that the desire and fire to play simply isn't there when the team hits the floor. And in a conference like the Big East, if you don't come out playing hard, you're going to get smoked.

That the men's squad has the talent to at least compete with most of their league counterparts is beyond doubt. For whatever reason, it's just not being put to use in the first ten minutes of most games.

The story on the women's side is different. The talent level isn't as great, but the effort is there. In some cases, WVU just isn't as talented as their opponents. Teams are also figuring out WVU's style, and are taking away their strengths of outside bomber Kate Bulger and penetrator Yolanda Paige, leaving WVU with few consistent offensive options.

Identifying the problems is one task, but finding solutions is another. One solution is to try to get players into the flow of the game more quickly by pressing or playing aggressive man to man, rather than sitting back in a zone. Of course, the women already press constantly, but that might be a tactic the men could employ more often.

One other solution that seems a bit corny on the surface might also help. In pregame warmups, rather than running halfhearted layup lines, the Mountaineers might consider running some defensive drills. Put a defender one on one against a ball handler and work them side to side across the floor at full speed. If nothing else, it could help to get the players ready for the pace of the game.

The final question - will it matter? On the men's side, the answer is probably no. WVU needs a miracle to just get to New York for the Big East tournament, and without anything to play for other than personal pride it's difficult to see any major changes coming.

Again, the ladies' side of the house is different. Although the weekend loss to Seton Hall put a big crimp in any postseason hopes, the women's team still has an outside chance of making the women's NIT. With the motivation there, a chance still exists that late improvements can be made.

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