Making Moves

I'm sure this column won't be too popular around the men's basketball office, but I think there's a change that needs to be made in WVU's rotation.

Of course, a suggestion from a writer certainly doesn't carry much weight when stacked up against the accomplishments, wisdom and knowledge of the WVU coaching staff, but that never stopped me from offering my opinions before. And as I sit in Morgantown on a wintry evening, just dying for the morning to come so I can begin tailgating for the Backyard Brawl, I can't contain myself.

The thought is this: Joe Alexander needs to be the first man off the bench for WVU at both the forward and center positions.

"Duh," I can hear many of you saying. "We've been saying that for a couple of days now." Well, hear me out.

First, I dropped this hint in last week's edition of the Blue & Gold News, so I feel justified in claiming early ownership of the idea. And second, I don't offer it without careful consideration of some facts that many people may overlook. What are those, you ask? Good timing - here we go.

First, it's not easy for any freshman to come in and make an immediate impact in John Beilein's system. The learning curve is so steep, both offensively and defensively, that most newcomers need at least 4-5 months to begin to master the basics, much less all the subtleties that the Beilein system demands. Put a guy out there too early, destroy his confidence, and he might take a lot longer to recover and become ready to contribute again than if he had been brought along more slowly.

This idea of dealing out success in small doses and getting a player's first experience in lower-pressure situations is a good one that I heartily endorse. Give a guy a few building blocks of success, and good things usually follow. It's the way Beilein brought along Darris Nichols last year, for example, and the results there have been very good.

In addition to the harm that could be done to the player himself, there's also team synchronicity to consider. If one player breaks down and doesn't execute the correct cuts on a certain play, it doesn't just affect him. The entire sequence is usually shot, and with it many times the possession as well. Beilein values each possession of the ball as it it were a precious gem, and if a player blows up two or three in a row, he's going to earn a seat on the bench. No matter what attributes a player brings to the table, or what possible help he could be, it must outweigh any damage done because he's not in the right spot on offense or playing the wrong defense on the other end of the floor.

If this sounds like I'm arguing with myself, well, I am. As the publisher of this site, I reserve that right. However, I just felt it necessary to examine all of the evidence before coming out with such a radical suggestion -- one that I typically wouldn't entertain.

Even with these objections, there's more evidence on the other side of the scale to support more time for Alexander -- even if he might not be as prepared as he would be in February. And we're not talking about major minutes here. Just 8-10 per game.

Even those who know little about the game understand that West Virginia has rebounding and inside scoring problems. I fully understand that Alexander, at this point in his career, is not the magic antidote for those maladies. However, he is the best equipped to provide at least some help in those areas.

Against Texas, Alexander showed no fear in taking open shots and going to the glass for rebounds, and he wasn't just in there jumping. He came down with the ball on a couple of occasions, scored four points, and other than some tentative moments on offense looked respectable, especially for a true freshman. I'll be the first to admit that I can't diagnose how many errors Alexander made in executing the offense and defense, but the fact is that he made some contributions that the Mountaineers haven't gotten from anyone else this year.

In an ideal world, Alexander could come off the bench for a few minutes at one of the forward spots, then slide over to center to give Kevin Pittsnogle a break for the next few minutes. That would give him enough time to get in the flow of the game, but not keep Frank Young, Mike Gansey or Kevin Pittsnogle out of the action for any longer than necessary.

Of course, one of the biggest drawbacks to this is the fact that Alexander would have to know two, and possibly three, positions in order to be effective. If his head is spinning now just trying to learn one spot, what kind of confusion might be sown when his workload is doubled?

Since I'm writing this on a computer, and not having to implement it on the floor, I'm going to say that isn't a big concern at this point. The fact is that WVU isn't getting any front line production from its bench at all -- something that it will desperately need during the Big East season. And if the Mountaineers want to improve that situation, the time is now to make the change. WVU has several upcoming games which it should win -- perfect situations in which to give the athletic Alexander the chance to see if he can provide a boost to West Virginia's frontcourt. If it doesn't work out, then that's o.k. At least the attempt will have been made.

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