Tuesday night's win over the Friars, however, might have signaled a change in that history. While PC was able to hang around during the game and keep it from becoming a rout, the contest was never in doubt. And although WVU didn't blister the nets as it did against Marquette on Saturday, its calm, efficient style of play kept any doubts about the ultimate outcome of the game at bay.
There was some discussion after the game as to whether or not it was "sloppy" or "boring". Head coach John Beilein rightly noted that a team with just seven turnovers certainly didn't play a sloppy game. He was right on target in that assessment. He could have added that the only thing that kept the winning margin of 16 from being about 25 was about six missed layups – shots the Mountaineers usually make in their sleep.
As to the "boring" tag – well, if this was boring, I'll take about ten more of them. I'd call it "efficient", or "business-like" or "routine", or, yes, "ordinary". These types of wins are the ones upon which upper-echelon conference finishes and first round tournament byes are built – items that are extremely important during March Madness. So, if you have to put a label on wins such as these, just plain ordinary won't suffice. Think back to those seasons when every win was a struggle, a nailbiter. When a .500 record in the conference was about the best you could hope for. Then review the Providence win, and look at the difference.
Unfortunately, some observers feel obligated to tag every game or performance with some sort of label. That leads to generalizations, which in turn lead to incorrect observations or conclusions about a team, or a game. WVU's win over Providence, while not a game that will stand out in anyone's mind this year, doesn't require any such appellations. But if you simply must have a phrase that wraps up the win, "wonderfully ordinary" pretty much covers it for me.
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WVU's outside shooting against the Friars was a bit off, especially when compared to recent efforts. The Mountaineers made just 42.6% of its shots from the field, including an icy 20.7% from three-point range. However, they made up for it with an aspect of their game that had been a bit shaky this year – driving the ball to the basket.
The gold-clad West Virginia squad had its problems close to the hoop as well. Herber, Gansey, Pittsnogle, Darris Nichols and Frank Young all missed bunnies, and there were a couple of easy tip-ins that missed the mark as well. Still, WVU got to the rack enough to record 36 points in the paint against the Friars. Only eight of those came on fast breaks, which means that 14 WVU buckets came after it had penetrated the PC defense.
I don't mean to suggest that the Mountaineers are suddenly going to become a power team, or that they are going to post up Georgetown or Notre Dame on a consistent basis. However, if they can continue to score in the lane when the outside shots aren't falling, or when teams don't allow shots from the perimeter, they are going to be a tough out.
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Is it too early to dream about a bye for the first round of the Big East tournament? WVU is 5-0 in the conference already, albeit with only one heavyweight (Villanova) among the victims. Eleven league games remain. Might an 11-5 overall record be enough to gain the #4 seed? Probably not, but 12-4 almost certainly would. Six or seven more conference wins are attainable, but it will require that the Mountaineers continue at the level of play they have shown in December and January. I'm not ready to make a prediction yet, but I'm certainly not betting against them.