Still A Puzzler

The dark cloud hanging over West Virginia's ignominious exit from the NCAA men's basketball tournaments is the fact that the Mountaineers were prepared for the Dayton Flyers. They simply didn't play with any excitement or intensity, and thus have been watching at home as teams advance to the Sweet 16.

With a week to prepare for Dayton, there's no doubt that the scouting report prepared by assistant coach Billy Hahn was complete in every detail. It was reviewed over and over. WVU had ample time to get ready for what the Flyers had to offer. So why were the Mountaineers so badly outplayed?

As assistant coach Erik Martin noted after the game, it wasn't as if Dayton had better athletes than WVU. It didn't have the long, high-jumping frontliners of Louisville, the long-range bombers of Syracuse or the bulk of Pittsburgh. What it had, however, was a team that was excited to play, and that competed for every loose ball, that hit the boards with toughness. Qualities that Bob Huggins' Mountaineer teams usually exhibit – but for some reason, on this day did not.

When such an event occurs, blame often falls on the coaches. "They didn't have the team ready to play," is the common complaint. That's the simple path of explanation, but it's not always accurate. In truth, it's often difficult to figure out why a team that usually plays with dogged determination lays such an uninspired egg.

First is the "unprepared" tag, and it simply doesn't fly. WVU had plenty of time to study Dayton and learn its sets and tendencies. In fact, during the game, assistant coaches frequently called out the names of Dayton's plays. However, West Virginia was unable to stop Dayton, or even keep them away from the rim for much of the game. All ten of the Flyers' two-point field goals in the opening half came within five feet of the basket, and had they been able to make anything from mid-range would have led by far more than the five points they did at the break.

One of many examples of this came in the second half, when Dayton had the ball out of bounds under its own basket. The West Virginia coaching staff, to a man, called out the play that Dayton was about to run. WVU failed to heed the warning, however, and the set resulted in a Dayton dunk. Bob Huggins then noted that, "We only worked on it all day yesterday and all of this morning!"

Before we go any further, this isn't to say that the coaching staff makes every correct decision, or that they are putting the blame on the players. That's not the angle at all. It's simply to divest observers of the opinion that the team ‘wasn't prepared', or that Dayton was overlooked. Coaches certainly made mistakes in the game as well (most notably the decision not to foul late in the second half while trailing by five points). It's simply to illustrate that sometimes, despite all preparation, players simply don't assimilate what they have been shown, or put it into practice in the court.

More than one player admitted that West Virginia didn't play as hard as Dayton. The phrase ‘they wanted it more', was heard several times during post game interviews. That's difficult to hear concerning your team, but it was certainly true in this game. It's even more puzzling coming from this team, which scrapped and clawed for nearly every minute of every game it played this season. Excluding, of course, its last one.

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