Against the Orange, WVU had the ball out of bounds under its own basket trailing by one point. As the play unfolded, Joe Herber broke free and was in perfect position to take a pass and get a short shot, or even a layup. However, as happened two days earlier against Seton Hall, the inbounder either did not see Herber, or chose to follow Beilein's stated wishes of simply throwing the ball into the backcourt in order to get a play underway. Only this time, the Orange, having seen such tactics in the past, ran back, tipped the ball away, and raced downcourt for an easy layup and a three point lead. The play, which likely was a four point swing, was a huge momentum killer for WVU, and appeared to put the offense into a funk. WVU again misfired on its next possession, and after Syracuse scored again to push its lead to five, was never able to retake the lead.
The subject of West Virginia's poor inbounding performance has been discussed before, but it obviously isn't taken very seriously by the coaching staff. As I noted in this week's edition of the Blue & Gold News, the patterns run by the Mountaineers seem very haphazard, and not everyone appears to be making themselves available to catch the ball. And when players such as Herber do occasionally spring open, the mindset of WVU's players seems to mirror that of the coaches – just throw it in the backcourt to the point guard and let him go get it. Which is fine, until the opposing team contests that pass, as Syracuse did.
The puzzling thing about this situation is that appears to be the one area that West Virginia pays little attention to, or cares little about. Beilein is a highly-organized, detail-oriented coach who obviously thinks constantly about every aspect of the basketball program. He has demonstrated time and again his willingness to adapt, to try new approaches, and to have a plan for every situation his teams encounter, whether on or off the court. That's why this seeming cavalier attitude toward getting the ball in bounds is so frustrating, and so hard to deal with. West Virginia has probably used at least 20 timeouts this year simply because it could not get the ball inbounds, and that has to rankle a coach who avows that saving his timeouts to use at the end of the game is one of his goals. Yet, the problem continues.
That's not to suggest that West Virginia isn't trying to solve the problem. There have been some tweaks to the sets being run on inbounds plays, but to date they don't seem any more successful that their predecessors. It's also understandable that, with limited practice time available, there simply aren't enough minutes to work on everything the coaches would like to. However, other problem areas that arise are addressed and ironed out – there's no good reason that this one can't be solved in the same manner.
Before going any further, it should be pointed out that Beilein's approach is understandable. The Mountaineers don't have the types of players to overpower people on the blocks or leap high above the rim for a lob pass on inbounds plays. It's not like something can be drawn up that is going to get WVU a layup on every inbounds possession. However, there is certainly something to run that could get a shooter open for a three, or get someone curling off a screen to create a scoring opportunity – or at least provide an avenue for a safe inbounds pass.
Until West Virginia improves in this area, it will continue to waste timeouts and allow defenses to rest while it flings the ball into the backcourt. Beilein is an outstanding coach – one that's far too good to ignore the opportunities presented by inbounds plays, or, at a minimum, to resolve this particular problem. Up until Monday night, WVU was able to overcome the disadvantages that approach brought. However, now that it has cost West Virginia a vital Big East conference game, those tactics need to change.