Mundane Prep To Cure Classic Woes?

Holding a routine and gaining turnovers were keys listed by West Virginia head coach John Beilein as his team tries to win its first game away from home in four tries when it plays Marshall in the Capital Classic on Wednesday.

The Mountaineers, once ranked in the top 25, fell out after consecutive losses to Marquette and Notre Dame. WVU (14-4, 4-3 Big East) chased that with a home win over South Florida, but then lost at Cincinnati in an upset. Beilein stressed that he thought the Bearcats were a team that the Mountaineers could cause turnovers against. Yet after building a 24-10 edge early and leading by as many as 17 points, WVU's defense began to wilt on the interior and its shots failed to fall, leading to a 30-point swing as UC won 96-83 in overtime. West Virginia forced just six turnovers – UC had a whopping 17 assists in comparison – while committing 12, and that led to a lack of points via the break or even off the turnover.

That turnover theme, harped upon all season by the fifth-year WVU coach, combined with the Mountaineers failing to hit outside shots and get into a flow because of the Bearcat press – something one can expect to see from Marshall – led to the scoring draughts and the eventual loss. The same could hold true in the Classic. Marshall has beaten West Virginia twice in a row largely because WVU failed to hit shots well in the Charleston Civic Center. That was once very much all the Mountaineers had on offense, and it remains a key part. But West Virginia had been able to back cut and hit short jumpers and work the inside game in combination with solid defensive efforts in earlier wins. That appears to have disappeared on the road, where teams are finding successes in the middle via passing to the wings and corner then hitting a cutter and by pressing and not allowing WVU to get into its offensive until the 23-25 second mark. Marshall (7-11, 2-3 C-USA) will certainly try the press, and if WVU can't fight through that and still manage good offensive possessions, it will have no chance to snap its road streak.

Too, West Virginia must force turnovers and prove effective on defense. It doesn't have to shoot well to win – at least not as much as past squads – but it cannot get ripped for 40-plus points in a half. Marshall, which choose in former games to play low-scoring affairs into the 50s, might instead try an uptempo game this time, figuring it can use its athletes and the press to again beat the Mountaineers.

"We are a much better team when we turn people over," Beilein said. "If we create those, we can win. The Cincinnati loss will hopefully be very helpful to us in the long run, help us understand the little things early in game and late in the game that we need to do."

Lost in the road skid is that West Virginia was also 14-4 after 18 games last season, albeit against considerably more difficult and proven competition. This game is a must-win if WVU expects to attempt to make an NCAA Tournament run, however, especially with two of the next three following coming on the road. Beilein said the best thing his team could do was to relax and stage the same setup for this game as for any other, though the tendency is to desire changes that might lead to the same thin in the win-loss column.

"This is not a new experience for us," Beilein said. "There is more of an advantage in having the same routine. We'll go down and practice, shot around like we have. We have guys that have played there. The arena is the same for both teams. It is loud and there is energy in that building that is incredible. We have our fans and Marshall has a lot of fans. It's a great night for everyone. We try not to get hung up on when the game is. It would be nice to play it in December, but if we don't, that's fine. If this is when the legislature wants it, then that's when we play."

Marshall has won consecutive games entering, including a 79-73 win at Tulsa, just its second win away from home this season. But the Herd has committed 287 turnovers and forced just 254, seemingly giving West Virginia an edge in that category. MU has 244 assists, a 0.9 assist-to-turnover ratio far from West Virginia's 1.6 (319 assists to 201 turnovers). The defense has averaged 5.4 steals per game to foes' 7.3, so any pressure would be used as a slowdown measure only and not as one that would gain many transition points against a team that takes care of the ball as well as the Mountaineers.

Note: Beilein, on being ranked in the Top 25 again: "People ask me that. Certainly not, right now. We have a long way to go before we get back into that situation. It's a maturation we have to go through. It will take time. We certainly should not be there yet."


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