For example, in the Cincinnati game that closed the regular season, West Virginia had three key defensive possessions in the second half where they got a deflection of a Bearcat pass or dribble. All three of those tips went straight to open UC players who proceeded to score, and those seven points (two layups and a three-pointer) were easily the deciding factor in UC's three point win.
Against Pitt in the quarterfinals of the big East tournament, it was more of the same. No fewer than five open layups were missed by the Mountaineers. Think those ten points might have made a difference in the contenst?
A number of theories have been advanced about the cause of the rash of missed gimmees. Fatigue is the number one issue raised, but the players and careful observers note that WVU was as well-rested as it had been in a long time coming into the tournament. Lack of concentration was also raised in a few quarters, but that has never been a problem with this group of players, and again, it seemd as if the Mountaineers were running their offense well when the misses occurred.
Another opinion holds that WVU's players have to work so hard to drive the ball to the basket and get past defenders that they have nothing left when they get to the basket, and are forced to float a shot up rather than attack the basket and drop the ball in at rim level.
A fourth, and somewhat intriguing theory, holds that when WVU drives to the basket, it is first looking for the kickout pass for a three-point attempt. In doing so, the player's first thought isn't to attack the rim aggressively. His focus is on finding an open teammate, and so when the option for a shot presents itself, it's so late in the drive that the shot is rushed, and sometimes goes off-target. That's a train of thought that certainly bears watching, and hopefully some correcting, as WVU prepares for its first round NCAA game.
Unfortunately, there's no one answer to the problem, as the players are hard-pressed to put their fingers on the cause, either. It's not just as if one guy is missing the shots. Against Pitt, five different players failed to convert layups with minimal or no defensive pressure.
"The ones that we've missed, we've just missed them," a frustrated Patrick Beilein said afterward, as he declined to make any excuses for the fialed shots. "Hopefully, we've got all the misses out of us going into the tournament."
"I don't think it's affected anyone mentally, I just think it's something that happens sometimes," heady Joe Herber added. "I don't think it's a focus thing either. Sometimes we might have too much momentum, or maybe you don't catch the ball right. But it shouldn't happen, to have that big accumulation of them [all in the same game]."
No matter which theory you subscribe to, the fact remains that had the Mountaineers made their open layups, they would have won their most recent two games, and would have advanced to Friday night's Big East semi-finals. Amidst all the other opinions about Beilein's system being figured out, the lack of depth and rest of the Mountaineer team, etc., the simple truth is that a few layups going in instead of spinning out were the difference over the past week. That bounce of the ball, as Beilein has often cautioned, has been the difference in many Mountaineer games over the past two years, and it will likely decide WVU's fate in the NCAAs as well.