Defensive Deficiencies

Rebounding, interior defense and transition work highlighted the 10-day off period for West Virginia, which faces North Carolina State in Charleston on Wednesday.

The Mountaineers (5-1) chose to take the layoff rather than play a game between the Old Spice Classic and the match-up against State (5-1) because head coach John Beilein felt the timing fell perfectly to work on the team flaws that were sure to present themselves in the initial games. The major one, exposed by a long and athletic Arkansas team in the Old Spice Classic championship – WVU's lone loss – was the ability to keep the ball out of the paint more effectively in the 1-3-1 zone. Other issues were severe lack of rebounding against the Razorbacks, getting to loose balls and both starting and finishing in transition.

West Virginia was outrebounded 38-18 by Arkansas. It compounded that by not getting to loose balls and failing to finish in transition – or even get started at times. So, instead of focusing earlier on the Wolfpack, West Virginia mixed heavy doses of film viewing with practicing different types of rebounding work and keeping the ball out of the paint, where it was hurt by Arkansas.

"We had six games in which we played pretty well, but it was a good opportunity for the coaches to take a look at what we needed to improve upon," point guard Joe Mazzulla said. "I think we patched up holes on offense and defense. We had weaknesses exposed. Our hard work (problem) was exposed. Arkansas beat us to loose balls that led to points. If we work hard, maybe we get to those and get four to six points and the game is closer at the end. Another point of emphasis in the last 10 days was post play. The team feels that we can get more aggressive in the post. We did not see a dominant post man in the first five games like we saw against Arkansas, and we learned from that. Hopefully, we can execute our plan tomorrow night. I think we will be ready against N.C. State."

Sixth man Da'Sean Butler said that the emphasis was on actually finding a body, an opposing player to block out, as opposed to just going to the rim for the ball. Beilein said that the rebounding styles and strengths of players are actually different. Some can block out well and rebound, while others are better simply attacking the ball. And West Virginia does stagger its rebounders for long and short boards. Beilein said it was not just as simple as going to the rim and making a great effort, although that is part of it.

The Mountaineers also found problems keeping the ball out of the middle post in the zone. WVU needed to get more active within the defense and get more deflections than it id in its last outing, when it faced arguably the most athletic team it could see all season. N.C. State has all five starters in double figures and will showcase a very interchangeable lineup that features all players between 6-5 and 6-9 that operate in a pro scheme that resembles West Virginia's Princeton-style offense.

"It was a lot of little things like people out of position and angles and things like that," point guard Darris Nichols said of the defensive lapses. "Playing against Arkansas, they were the most athletic we have played. We did not see that early in the year, so that will help us. The transition key is just to get the rebounds and get it out. We did not get many in that game, so we were limited in transition points."

West Virginia will attempt to be more active on the ball when it's just outside the perimeter as well. That should help keep entry passes from getting inside to a center already positioned in the paint, and force the typical attack of a pass to the wing, then down onto the back, where Nichols or Mazzulla can provide help and trap an opposing center. Arkansas, because of its size, could get skip passes over the defense, which helped setup open three-pointers and better penetration. State is not as athletic, but they have solid size and the ability to post up every player on the interior, which will force WVU to body up men and deny passes more effectively. The Wolfpack also is not as mistake-prone as were the Razorbacks, who turned the ball over 19 times to WVU's five, so any early deficit will be more difficult to make up against a team that runs through multiple set plays before taking a shot.

"We can't emphasize all the things you need to emphasize with a young team," Beilein said. "It was refreshing for us to get back to almost the beginning again. (N.C. State) will post you up. You have to be quick, have good feet, and strength is a factor, but that can get you in trouble if you don't have good balance. You have to be tough. Be balanced, be tough, and have quick feet."

Notes: The meting is the 15 all-time between the schools. The series is tied 7-7. Beilein is 3-0 against Atlantic Coast Conference teams, beating N.C. State, Maryland and Wake Forest, the latter in the NCAA Tournament. Foes have averaged just 46.7 points per game in WVU wins this year.

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