ORLANDO – A smattering of observations from the first two rounds of the Old Spice Classic, held here in the 5,000-seat Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.
's shooting woes in smaller venues ended in its opening-round win over Montana, when it made 28 of 56 shots overall (50 percent) and 10 of 23 (43.5) from three-point range. The Mountaineers had struggled shooting in high school-like gyms, partially because they are away from home and partially because of the different feel. It was encouraging to see the team maintain its stroke, especially with how the Milk House seating behind the baskets mimics that of the Charleston Civic Center, slanting upward and back from the baseline. The free throw shooting also improved, as WVU made seven of eight. Backup point guard Joe Mazzulla
made two of three.
Frank Young's first-game performance (eight of 16/five of 10 3pt. For 21 points to lead all opening round scoring) in his home state should quell and questions about the senior's ability. Young had made significant contributions all season, rebounding, playing defense and doing other intangible chores that don't often show in the state book. But when the Tallahassee native missed his first 10 three-pointers of the season and went scoreless in the season opener against Mount St. Mary's, it was pondered by fans whether the red-hot start of true freshman Da'Sean Butler might elevate him over Young.
"Frank was doing so many other things for us that did go unnoticed," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "But bless him to be able to do this in front of his family and friends. We knew he just had to keep shooting. Frank's a smart, smart player and he does a lot of things for us on the floor. He is sort of a calming influence."
Montana struggled like few others against the Mountaineers' 1-3-1 zone. The Grizzlies committed a season-high 30 turnovers and were immediately flustered by the set. That led to three turnovers in the first three minutes, a trend that continued throughout. UM actually had more turnovers than shots through the first five minutes of the game, and by then trailed 14-2. The prescience of 6-8 Joe Alexander at the point and on the wing has elevated the effectiveness, and Butler's range out front is very solid, though not unparalleled. Point guards Darris Nichols and Mazzulla aren't moving down low along the baseline as well as they could be, however, and that is allowing teams a better look from long range in the corner.
The Mountaineers continued to play man off a miss and zone off the make. Montana played man the entire game, but could never truly match West Virginia in its motion offense. WVU found wide-open shooters on the wings on offense (Young making three shots from that area), and trapped UM on the baseline on defense when the Griz pounded the ball inside from the wing.
Lost in the point output of Young and Joe Alexander – who had a monster dunk for WVU's third and fourth points – was Alex Ruoff's five assists. That matched Nichols' for game high. Ruoff showed steady play up top on offense, and moved laterally well defensively, not allowing point guard to drive around him. That was one problem Alexander showed when matched against UM point Bryan Ellis. The 5-10 jitterbug is as quick as any player the Mountaineers will face this season, but does not possess the jumper to hurt a foe in the lane like Marquette's Dominic James, for example.
A gentleman in a Montana shirt sat next to me during Western Michigan's win over Virginia Tech. Thinking it was a newspaper reporter, as the placard in front of his seat read ‘The Misslouan' I told him some about West Virginia and its history of hiring Beilein. We spoke about strengths and weaknesses and what we could expect from some of the Mountaineer freshmen. He expressed concern over the 1-3-1 defense, then wished us luck against South Florida in what he expected to be a "slaughter."
It turned out to be Montana assistant coach Andy Hill, who was correct about the 1-3-1 pressure. Hill is a graduate of Eastern Washington, and no doubt recalled West Virginia's season-opening win over the Division I-AA school. "You guys are very impressive on film," Hill said of WVU's basketball team. "You have some talent. Beilein seems like a great coach."
West Virginia forced 28 total turnovers and held Western Michigan to just 11 first half points a 79-54 win that advanced it to the championship game of the Old Spice Classic against Arkansas.
The Mountaineers advanced to 5-0 for just the fourth time in 20 years with a second round win over Western Michigan. It's 1-3-1 zone was at its finest. WMU head coach Steve Hawkins said he did not attack it as he would have liked – yet another circumstance in which the Mountaineers' unique scheme and style helped it with a short turnaround.
WVU, in building a 44-11 halftime lead, held Western Michigan to nine first half shots and no field goals in the last 7:37. It was the lowest scoring half for a WVU opponent since Salem had 10 points in 1941. Hawkins, in a very standup and complimentary way, said he would have liked to have had another 24 hours to prepare. He used more backdoor motion in the second half and that helped, but he said he knew WVU was just burning clock.
West Virginia has now forced 119 turnovers in first five games and has showcased excellent perimeter defense. The 11-point first half was the lowest scoring first half for Western Michigan in at least two years. It tallied no less than 19 points in any half last year.
Side notes: One Virginia Tech guard argued a double dribble call in the first half of his opening round loss and immediately got rebuffed. The exchange: "Hey ref, that was a bad call." "Hey, player, that was a worse dribble." That ended that.
Our shuttle driver's college roommate was from Parkersburg, The Missloulan writer covering Montana used to work in Glenville. I was feeling fine about the area's connections, until we got here and were placed on the 14th floor (really the 13th, as the elevator buttons go 1-12, then 14-33) by a desk clerk that said she has spent many Saturday's in Morgantown. "I'm a Virginia Tech grad," she said. Yes, I'd like my bags carried, thanks.