Different Tactics, Same Results

West Virginia has had a mini-explosion of scoring in its last two road games, tallying 80-plus points in wins over Rutgers and Seton Hall. What are some of the reasons for the high totals, and can the Mountaineers continue to score at those unexpected levels?

Against Rutgers, outstanding shooting was the primary reason for WVU's 89-83 win. The Mountaineers scorched the nets by shooting 65.2% from the field, and an eye-popping 66.7% from three-point range. What's more, WVU scored 89 points on just 46 shots from the field. That's an average of almost two points per shot – a figure few teams approach in a game. In maximizing its chances (WVU has just seven turnovers), the Mountaineers put on a classic display of the Beilein system.

The 81-70 win over Seton Hall, however, was quite different. West Virginia shot the ball respectably (47.3% from the field) but other than that the game was entire different. WVU and the Pirates played an up and down, high-tempo game that was quite different from the one just three days and 50-some miles removed from the Rutgers contest on Wednesday.

First, the two teams combined for 37 turnovers, with WVU committing 18 of the miscues. That's a number that would normally have head coach John Beilein more than a little frustrated, but he seemed to accept them as a matter of course in light of the way the game was played. West Virginia pushed the ball hard upcourt off every Seton Hall miss or turnover, even late in the game when the Mountaineers had the lead (more on this in a moment). WVU also took nine more shots in the contest than it did against the Scarlet Knights, and certainly had far more possessions than it did in the previous game as well. It only made six three-pointers, but made up for the deficit by canning 23 of 25 free throws to keep the Pirates at bay. (That performance, by the way, lifted WVU's season free throw percentage to 71.1%.)

Getting consecutive wins in such differing manners is certainly nothing but good news for this Mountaineer team. It shows that the still-learning team is able to adapt to different situations, and isn't dependent on just one phase of its game in order to get wins.

Of course, as noted in previous spaces on this site, it's no surprise when the Mountaineers shoot well. There is not a player on WVU's team that is not capable of hitting four or five shots in a row and scoring in double figures. Leave them open, and you're going to be in for a rough night. Foes are also beginning to see, however, the West Virginia is responding to tight, man-to-man defenses by driving the ball aggressively to the basket. Against the Hall, Darris Nichols, Joe Alexander, Da'Sean Butler and even Frank Young put the ball on the floor when tightly guarded on the perimeter, which resulted in a number of points in the paint, not to mention trips to the free throw line. And while some of WVU's totals there were the result of late Pirate fouls in attempts to get the ball back, many were still the outgrowth of the Gold and Blue's response to aggressive, man-to-man coverage.

WVU stuck with the up tempo play right down to the final 1:30 of the Seton Hall game – a surprising fact given the Mountaineers' normal tactics in such situations. Typically, with a lead and the ball late in the game, West Virginia will back it out, run clock and shorten possessions. However, it didn't do that at all against the Pirates, as it continued to push the ball off rebounds and steals. One of the ideas behind that was to keep Seton Hall from executing its sticky man-to-man – in transition, it's obviously more difficult to find and get up in the face of your opponent. That pace of play led to WVU's uncharacteristic 18 turnovers, but it also lead to several scores and the high volume of trips to the free through line.

One play in particular highlighted this different mindset. On the defensive end, Alexander snared one of his nine rebounds, and saw a small opening in the middle of the court. Pushing the ball, Alexander outdribbled three pursuing defenders to the paint on the offensive end of the court, where he dished the ball to Young for an open lay-up that gave the Mountaineers a 13-point lead. It was one of those sequences where observers are thinking, "back it out, find the guards, and run some clock", but that wasn't the order of the day. West Virginia obviously felt that it was the right time, and the right situation, to push the ball, even though it went against the grain of what we've come to expect from John Beilein teams.

Of course, that's not to say the Mountaineers are on their way to becoming Loyola Marymount. West Virginia isn't going to gun shots up at the first opportunity. It's probably not going to score 80 points against all of its remaining foes. But in winning two consecutive games in such different manners, it also showed that there's not a single key that foes can concentrate that will guarantee success. In the John Beilein offense, adapting to what your opponent does is the path to scoring and winning. And in the New Jersey sweep, WVU showed that it can expand that strategy to its entire game as well.

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