Minute Minder

As he looked down the box score of West Virginia's 71-60 win over ACC member North Carolina State, head coach John Beilein was certainly struck by a statistic that supports one of his views of the game.

There, among shooting percentages rebounding totals, assists and turnovers, was this eye-popper: four members of the Wolfpack squad played all forty minutes of the contest, while a fifth (former Mountaineer recruiting target Dennis Horner), played 32. What's more, N.C. State used just six players overall in the game, which took Beilein back to his early days of coaching.

"Back then, without the TV timeouts, you just had the five timeouts in the game, and we did o.k. with a short rotation," he recalled. "Now, you have very long timeouts, so when you take a player out you can really rest him."

The figures, of course, bear Beilein out. With four media timeouts per half (the first dead ball following the 16:00, 12:00, 8:00 and 4:00 minute marks), there are enough breaks in the action to give players a substantial break. Those media timeouts typically run at least two minutes in length, which is almost half the time allotted to play in each period. Add in the potential for ten more stoppages in play (five timeouts per team), and depth isn't quite the factor that it used to be.

"If you get a couple of major injuries, depth is very important," Beilein said when asked about N.C. State's short rotation. "But it's not that important otherwise. Give me five good players and a couple of others to play a few minutes here and there, and I would like that a lot."

Beilein's actions in WVU's win certainly reflected that thinking. While the expectation was that Beilein might use his ten-man rotation for a lot of minutes in an effort to wear down the Wolfpack, he did just the opposite. His starters played 164 of the possible 200 minutes, and only Da'Sean Butler (18) got into double figure minutes off the bench. Part of that was due to the fact that the Mountaineer starters got onto a roll in the second half, and part was Beilein's continuing experimentation with his rotation (or the absence of one) and its effect on the team.

The Mountaineers used Frank Young at the five spot in the second half for several minutes (including an interesting look called "angle"), and will also use Joe Alexander there as well. While that doesn't create more minutes for the backups, it does expand the versatility of the lineup, and gives Beilein different manners in which to attack opposing defenses.

Whether this shortened rotation will continue in future games remains to be seen. There will be games in which Jamie Smalligan (seven minutes) and Devan Bawinkel (three minutes) will have to contribute more. And Joe Mazzulla, who has struggled in his last two contests, will, at some point in the season, have to provide 15-20 minutes at the point. However, judging from Beilein's comments, there won't be many games where he plays nine or ten players for an appreciable amount of time.

Of course, that raises the question of fatigue later in the year, as the minutes and wear and tear on the slender Mountaineers mounts. Beilein, as noted earlier, however, thinks that games, with their myriad stoppages of play, don't put as much stress on players as they did before the advent of the media timeout. Improved strength and conditioning techniques also help, and although Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff have only been through a little more than a year of the demanding regimen, their improved fitness is certainly noticeable this season.

The guess is that by this date in January, West Virginia will have settled into a rotation which features the starting five in normal 28-32 minutes per game stints, with Smalligan, Butler and Mazzulla getting about fifty minutes combined per game off the bench. Mazzulla's progression will determine whether Darris Nichols exceeds that number, so it won't be a surprise to see the junior starter stay in the 35-minute per game or higher range.

No matter how the individual minutes shake out, however, don't look for Beilein to blend minutes more evenly between his top players and his reserves. In his view, keeping the best players on the floor for as long as possible gives his team the best chance to win. And while you won't see many 40-minute men in the game book for West Virginia, it certainly wouldn't upset him if there were.

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