Tournament Notes

Thoughts on the men's and women's Big East basketball tournaments

Is John Beilein whistling in the dark with his statements about WVU's frame of mind heading into the Big East tournament? Following WVU's 78-75 loss to Cincinnati, the veteran mentor was more upbeat than after many of West Virginia's wins this year. He was obviously (and rightly) pleased with his team's scoring output against a tough Bearcat defense, and indicated more than once that he was happy with his team's direction as it prepares to play the winner of the Pitt-Louisville game on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.

While Beilein's comments might appear to be nothing more than coachspeak, there is some logic behind his views. WVU did play well, for the most part, against the Bearcats. Were it not for two missed layups in the first half, or for missed free throws in the second, West Virginia might well have pulled out the win. Granted, the Mountaineers had a tough time stopping the UC offense, but the reverse was also true, as both teams traded offensive punches coming down the stretch of the hotly contested game. So, there is plenty of justification for his comments in that regard.

WVU's 2-4 record over its past six games heading into the tournament is also raising some question marks, but again, Beilein isn't too concerned. West Virginia was competitive in all of those losses, and did enough good things to keep him from pushing the panic button after the latest setback. Although there are always lessons to be learned from losses, Beilein and his coaches understand the importance of maintaining the long view.

That's not a trait unique to the Mountaineer staff, or to basketball. I first remember reading about this theory in one of John Madden's books. In it, Madden was relating lessons he had learned from Vince Lombardi, and one of them was that the head coach often needed to act in the opposite manner than one might expect. For example, a team that has lost three or four games in a row is hearing how bad things are from everyone. The media, fans, even family members are all wondering what's going wrong, offering criticisms and off-the-wall solutions, and hitting every DEFCON-1 alert in sight. It's at those times, Madden relates, that coaches need to keep an even keel, dispense some pats on the back, and avoid ripping into the team.

Conversely, it's when things are going good, and everyone is hearing how great they are, that the coaches might need to tighten the screws a bit and kick a few butts. Again, the idea is to keep the team on level ground – a time-honored tradition that has a lot of success behind it.

Is Beilein using this tactic at the moment? I think so. Things really are never as bad or as good as they seem, and Beilein knows that he can't have his team down on itself or moping about a sub-par end to the regular season when it hits the court in New York Thursday night.

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It took a bit longer than Mike Carey had hoped, but the WVU women's basketball team has finally bought in to his demands for intense defensive effort on every possession. That, more than anything, explains the Mountaineers' three-game winning streak in the Big East tournament after losing eight of its first nine games following the loss of Meg Bulger.

While Chakhia Cole, Olayinka Sanni and Britney Davis-White have combined to pick up some of the scoring slack caused by the absence of Bulger, that hasn't been the reason the Mountaineers have knocked off Louisville, St. John's and Rutgers in the tournament. Instead, it's been sticky defense that has led the way.

Since Bulger crumpled to the floor of Madison Square Garden with a season ending knee injury, WVU has scored more than 58 points just one time. Their totals in the tournament? Fifty-four, fifty-five, and fifty-six points. That's a far cry from the totals they put up with Bulger in the lineup, but the Mountaineers were able to make them stand up due to their excellent defense. So far, WVU has held its three foes to a 45-158 shooting performance from the field – a dismal 28.5% rate. If the Mountaineers can produce that number again on Tuesday, it could come out with an upset championship win for the ages.


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