Getting Defensive

West Virginia's 8-1 start has been keyed by a tenacious defense. For a team that's largely been known for its unique offense, the Mountaineers are in somewhat uncharted territory.

A quick look at this week's NCAA stats show that the Mountaineers rank first in defensive scoring, giving up just 50.9 points per game. Granted, the competition hasn't quite been up to the level of what it will be when Big East play begins in two weeks, but the fact that his young team is playing so well defensively has head coach John Beilein pleased.

"It's good that we're in there," Beilein said on Tuesday afternoon. "I don't think any of my teams have been characterized as being great defensive teams. Right now, at least our numbers suggest that will change."

Added senior forward Frank Young, "It's a good stat, and it's giving us confidence early in the season. We've been a good defensive team so far. The three zone has been causing teams lots of problems early on."

Of course part of West Virginia's defensive success is due to the deliberate pace of the Mountaineer offense. While you don't normally hear the term "ball control" in basketball, the Mountaineers use their patient read-and-react offense to keep possession of the ball late into the 35 second clock. By doing so, they essentially shorten the game.

"It's a bit misleading because we play a shorter game the way we end up moving the ball and throwing three or four passes every time down the court," Beilein admitted. "If they don't have the ball, then they can't score points."

Another stat that plays into West Virginia's favor is Beilein's non-conference record in the Coliseum. Since his first season as head coach back in 2002-2003, the Mountaineers are an impressive 26-2 at home against non-Big East foes. (Can you name the two losses? Answer at the bottom). With lackluster opponents like The Citadel and Maryland-Eastern Shore coming up, there's a pretty good chance that the mark will stand at 28-2 when top-ranked UCLA rolls into the Coliseum come February.

Offensively, West Virginia has been very balanced so far. Young and sophomore forward Joe Alexander lead the team with a 12.8 points per game average. Junior point guard Darris Nichols and sophomore shooting guard Alex Ruoff check in at 10.9 and 10.2, respectively. That balance has been a big plus for the Mountaineers through their first nine games.

"I think that's one of the special parts of this team is that anybody can get it going on any night," said Young. You don't have to look to just one or two scorers every night. You have five guys on the floor at anytime that can get it going and give the team a spark."

A balanced offensive attack, and a tenacious defense have been the perfect complements to West Virginia's hot start.

RIFLE REPORTS

  • West Virginia is 12-1 when Young makes at least three three-pointers in a game.

    "One of my former teachers told me that stat," Young said with a laugh. "It's kind of funny because I didn't know about that. Hopefully we can keep that stat going. I don't even think about that though. It's not in my mind."

    "Basically, anytime we make ten threes we've probably got a good record over time," explained Beilein. "If you have one guy making three, you're 33 percent game. Anytime somebody makes three three's in a game, you're going to do pretty well. Frank is Frank, though. He's a wonderful player for us that really has been a key part of this run over these last four years."

    This season, the Mountaineers have made at least ten threes in a game six times. Compare that with Beilein's first season when the team did it just once.

  • The Mountaineers will practice on Thursday morning before Beilein dismisses them for Christmas. The team will reconvene in Morgantown on Christmas night at which time they will begin preparing for UM-Eastern Shore.

  • When the Bulldogs take the court on Wednesday night, there will be a familiar face sitting on their bench. P.J. Brown, who is in his first year as an assistant at The Citadel, was a graduate assistant under Beilein during his first two seasons in Morgantown. Brown is a graduate of Furman.

  • One more time: What two non-conference teams have beaten Beilein's Mountaineers in the Coliseum?

    ANSWER: Fairmont native and current Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart led the Northeastern Huskies to a 91-84 victory over West Virginia back on November 29, 2003.

    Last season, the Mountaineers fell to future Final Four participant LSU by an overtime final of 71-68.


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