The Question

There's really only one key question about the current state of the Mountaineer men's basketball team. The problem is, there isn't a definitive answer.

The question doesn't concern rebounding, or getting the ball in bounds, or scoring drought, although all those issues are important. The one that really defines the squad as it enters the critical month of February is this: Is West Virginia a tired team?

On the surface, it would seem to be a simple question to answer. A team is either tired, or its not. It plays with bounce and energy or it doesn't. Like so many questions, however, the answer isn't a simple yes or no.

The problem with making the determination on whether or not WVU is worn down is that there's a great deal of conflicting evidence. For every point on the affirmative side, there's a counterargument that says no. For example:

Tired: WVU has started out well in games against UCLA and St. John's, then faded in the second half. That's clear proof that West Virginia is growing weary late in games.

Not Tired: The Mountaineers often go through long scoring droughts in games. Against Villanova, the bad streak came in the first half.

Tired: WVU's shortened bench is forcing the starters to play more minutes, thus wearing the team down.

Not Tired: Only Kevin Pittsnogle and Frank Young are playing appreciably more minutes than a year ago, so it should not be affecting players such as J.D. Collins, Mike Gansey, Joe Herber, Patrick Beilein and Darris Nichols

Tired: Some of WVU's long range shots are coming up short – a clear indication of tired legs

Not Tired: The Mountaineers, particularly Gansey and Pittsnogle, are shooting as soon as they step of the bus. Against St. John's, WVU took as many threes from beyond the NBA arc as it did from college range. From those distances, misses are more likely to come up short.

Back and forth it goes. Head coach John Beilein has made conflicting statements on the issue at different times, and although the WVU mentor is a pleasant and non-confrontational interview, he holds his cards closer to his vest that Doyle Brunson. So, with evidence supporting both sides, and a coach that quite rightly doesn't reveal too much about his team, is there a correct answer to be found?

Instead of looking at the team as a whole, a look at individual players might be a bit more instructive. For instance, Joe Herber, who hasn't been playing to his usual level of efficiency of late, seems to be a bit weary. His drives to the basket have lacked some of their usual zip, and his shot has been off. Throw in his nearly non-stop action over the past two years, along with a heavy class load, and it certainly looks as if fatigue is playing a factor.

Mike Gansey, who looks at times as if he stepped out of a concentration camp, might also be in the tired group. He, like Herber, played a great deal this summer, and the lack of a break could be a contributing factor in his diminished bounce as well. Gansey's non-stop action on the point of the Mountaineers' 1-3-1 defense is also a drain on his reserves, and at times he shows the stress of that activity.

Although Kevin Pittsnogle is playing many more minutes than last year, and is playing much harder on the defensive end, his drop of about 20 pounds appears to have helped his endurance tremendously. One thing he has shown in the last couple of games is a tendency to launch some off balance shots rather than taking the extra step to get his feet set – another sign of creeping fatigue.

As for J.D. Collins, the only term to apply there is warrior. Although Collins plays fewer minutes than the other starter, he also gets more bumps, bruises and abuse on the court than any other Mountaineer. His spot at the bottom of the 1-3-1 pits him against bigger, heavier bodies each time out, and the cumulative effect of those screens, picks, collisions and box-outs certainly take their toll.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot WVU can do on the court to help this situation. Rob Summers and Joe Alexander have struggled to adapt to the WVU system, and although both are still being worked with, it's unlikely if either will provide significant minutes this year. Alex Ruoff could be ready to get a few more looks in the backcourt, but with Patrick Beilein and Darris Nichols both getting time there, he faces something of a logjam in getting on the court.

The way in which WVU can address this situation is by shortening practices and giving players more time off. That's somewhat counter to Beilein's system, which demands practice time to maintain the intricate timing and reads that define the offense, but there might not be much choice in this case. West Virginia is preparing to face the most talented teams in the Big East over the next two weeks, and the Mountaineers will have to be at full strength in order to maintain a spot in the top four – which would give them a much-needed first round bye in the league tournament. Whether a couple of extra days of is enough remains to be seen.

On the other hand, these are, as many point out, still kids in the primes of their athletic lives. A few days at home, in familiar surroundings, should be enough to put the spring back in their steps and have them flying high during the two game homestand, right?

Tired.

Not Tired.

Even in proposed solutions, the question remains.


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