Rotational Analysis

It might seem as if West Virginia head coach John Beilein's substitution patterns are as complex as his offensive and defensive schemes, but the beginnings of some of his ideas for the 2006-07 Mountaineer basketball team were apparent in Sunday night's exhibition game.

First, it looks as if Darris Nichols (1), Alex Ruoff (2), Frank Young (3), and Joe Alexander (4) are pretty much set as starters for the opening game. With such a young team, there certainly could be changes in that starting set as the season progresses, but those four will, in all likelihood, be starters for the first few games of the season. The battle for the center position is still open, with Rob Summers and Jamie Smalligan vying for the position. If the battle ends up too close to call, Beilein will go with Summers, who has been in the program longer. Either way, however the one that doesn't start will certainly see plenty of time as the backup at the five spot, so this battle won't affect the overall rotation very much.

In the exhibition game, Summers started. WVU's first substitutions were Smalligan for Summers, Wellington Smith for Alexander and Da'Sean Butler for Young. That left the backcourt of Nichols and Ruoff intact – something that will probably be done a great deal, especially in the season. With so much youth on the floor, Beilein will depend on the experience of Nichols, and to a lesser extent Ruoff, to help guide the offense through the many growing pains it will experience. Although Ruoff played the three position for much of last year, his year of exposure to the Beilein system should help him adjust to the two fairly quickly.

Butler figures to be the first man off the bench, and is talented enough to play the two, three or four. Of course, he would have to learn all those positions, but Beilein has noted that Butler has been the equal of players such as Joe Herber in picking up the Mountaineer system. Still, look for Butler to play the three, and perhaps the four, as his primary spots early on. He will likely log almost as many minutes as the starters, much as Patrick Beilein did in filling the sixth man role.

Smith should provide a nice counterpoint to Alexander at the four. Despite the three-point shooting results from the Fairmont State game (Smith was 0-6), he figures to provide WVU with another long-range threat. His playing time could be increased if Alexander moves to another position, which we discuss next.

Although the lanky and explosive Alexander is a great fit at the four, he could also play the five in some situations. Matchups with smaller, quicker teams could dictate this move, as could a lack of productivity from the five spot if neither Summers nor Smalligan fills the bill. That would not be Beilein's first choice, but it won't be a surprise to see if happen. If it does, it would open up more time for Smith, and possibly Young, at the four spot.

The next rotation in the game saw Joe Mazzulla and Devan Bawinkel enter the game in the backcourt, with Summers and Alexander returning up front. Butler was the only player to stay on the floor. This is probably not a move we'll see much of during the season, as it puts two true freshmen on the floor at the guard spots, and isn't overloaded with proven offensive firepower. More likely, the substitutions at the one and two will be staggered, so as to keep either Nichols or Ruoff on the floor as much as possible. The freshman pair didn't perform badly against Fairmont State, but they certainly weren't at the level of Nichols or Ruoff, which is to be expected. Mazzulla probably looked a bit more comfortable of the two, and he should progress into a solid backup as the season progresses.

In the second half, the set starting four welcomed Smalligan to the floor with them, as Beilein wanted to see how each center performed with Nichols, Ruoff, Young and Alexander. In this game, Smalligan had an edge, as he handled the ball more comfortably and was a better offensive threat. The first rotation of the second half gave a look at the small lineup, with Butler subbing in for Smalligan. That moved Alexander to the five, where he was quite active on the boards. However, he does have a great deal to learn defensively, so this lineup is certainly still a work in progress.

There are other options for different lineups as well. The 1-3-1 zone would certainly be very active with Joe Alexander at the point, Smith and Butler on the wings and Nichols at the bottom. WVU could also use its smaller lineup to help its man-to-man defense, which has been worked on extensively. And there are still players such as Cam Thoroughman, who Beilein frankly admitted he was searching for a position for, that could end up filling key roles for the Mountaineers this year.

Beilein admits he likes an eight-, or at most, a nine-player rotation. However, 10 players saw at least 11 minutes of playing time against the Falcons, so its going to be a difficult task to get down to that level. The best guess at this point for a top eight would be Nichols and Mazzulla at the one, Ruoff at the two, Young and Butler at the three, Alexander and Smith at the four and Smalligan at the five. Summers and Bawinkel will compete to move into that group, as will Thoroughman.

Of course, many of these things could, and likely will, change during the course of the season. Butler could swing between multiple positions. Thoroughman could evolve into a jack-of-all-trades. Bawinkel could become a sniper off the bench. It will all be part of the growth and evolution of this very different Mountaineer team, and it should be entertaining to watch it unfold.


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