No Bull: Turnovers Key Against USF

South Florida ranks last in the Big East in turnover margin, but West Virginia head coach John Beilein says that statistic will loom large only if the Mountaineers avoid the mistakes that plagued them in recent road losses.

WVU (13-3, 3-2 Big East), which dropped put of the top 25 polls after consecutive losses at Notre Dame and Marquette, effectively pressured the Fighting Irish and Golden Eagles, respectively, to create 16 and 17 turnovers. Those numbers are normally enough with which to win. But West Virginia registered double-digit turnovers each game, including 17 against Marquette to negate any edge. And since MU plays an uptempo style, the equal turnovers actually favored it.

Enter USF (10-8, 1-3), a team that finished at the bottom of the Big East last season and has already dropped three of its first four in the league this year. Much of that has come from its –2.44 turnover margin and an assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks just ahead of Rutgers in the 16-team conference. That has put the Bulls in the lower half of every major statistical scoring column despite having better talent via an influx of transfers – including ones from national champion Florida, Arizona, LSU, Valparaiso, Florida State and Purdue – and added experience. WVU plans to take advantage in a twofold manner. First, continue its pressure defense out of the 1-3-1 and try to capitalize on any runouts for easy points. Second, play a closer-to-the-vest style of offense and realize that a running game against best suits the opposition. The Mountaineers got suckered into that style against Marquette, and it was then that the contest was lost.

"Whether it's South Florida or anybody else, we have usually been pretty good when we got teams to turn it over," Beilein said, "as long as we don't turn it over. We got Marquette to turn it over, but we gave it back to them on many occasions. They had incredible speed and quickness and experience. The key is to create turnovers, then take care of it ourselves."

West Virginia had just five turnovers against South Florida last year while forcing 21 in a 57-53 win in Tampa. Those numbers will almost certainly be closer this season because the Bulls have both a year of Big East play and older, more seasoned players overall. USF starts two seniors and a junior with freshman guards Solomon Bozeman and Chris Howard. The interior play should fare well against WVU, though the tallest starter is 6-9 Kentrell Gransberry, an LSU transfer. But the frosh backcourt will be tested early by the Mountaineers to see if it can hold up under the confusion and strange attack angles the 1-3-1 forces. If West Virginia can create sufficient havoc, it will mean several easy points, a key to a confidence-inducing rebound win for a team that is allowing foes to hit 52 of 98 (52 percent) of its shots in the last two games while making just 42 of 110 (38 percent) itself.

"We played two very good teams in Notre Dame and Marquette," Beilein said. "Those are two NCAA tournament teams. They are at home, they are terrific and the really guarded us pretty well. It's a simple explanation, and we'll see it every day now. We will have to try to continue to improve in things we do offensively and defensively. I like our 68-point average. If we can keep that up, we will be pretty good."

That's in conference through the first five games for West Virginia. USF is allowing 64.2 per game, and its 21 turnovers, including three in a row at one point, allowed West Virginia to close the gap after falling behind the league opener for both teams last year. The 21-5 advantage also helped erase a 42-22 rebounding edge for the Bulls. Those differences on either side are unlikely this season, but keep an eye on West Virginia's turnovers forced versus turnover committed numbers. If it's close to 50-50, it could be a very difficult game.

"There has been a huge change there as far as more experience," Beilein said of a USF team that won eight of its first nine. "The kids that transferred in have made a huge difference. What they were is not going to last much longer. They'll be a middle of the pack Big East team. You look at the number of fourth- and fifth-year players, and they are an experienced team."

Note: Beilein said despite being in the midst of playing six of eight games away from home, he will not yet plan too many practices with an emphasis on avoiding fatigue. WVU plays host to South Florida, then is away from home for games with Cincinnati, Marshall, Rutgers and Seton Hall sandwiched evenly around a home game with DePaul.

"We are pretty young," Beilein said, "so I don't worry about freshness too, too much yet. I think mid-February will be time for that. We will be able to take time off. I never buy into the idea that the travel makes it harder to play. You have to be very careful about using that as a crutch. That's the way life is, and we deal with it."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories