The West Virginia Mountaineers pay back the Pitt Panthers, pad tourney resume
West Virginia played its best two halves of basketball in an important game this season tonight, while routing Pitt.
It was encouraging to see the Mountaineers out-tough Pitt cleanly and aggressively and it's also exciting to see Joe Alexander turn into a dominant player right before our eyes.
It was also nice to pay back Pitt for that heartbreaking loss earlier this season. Can't wait to do the same during next football season.
Absent a meltdown against St. John's and a first-round exit from the Big East tournament, it looks like WVU has a good chance to get into the NCAA tourney. Of course, the Mountaineers have an advantage: There is a little-known codicil in the NCAA bylaws that states, if Bob Huggins is coaching a Division I basketball team, that team gets an NCAA berth. Or at least it seems that way, given his numerous appearances.
But it was the team, not Huggins, that may have played its way into the tourney tonight.
I noticed a couple of things while watching the game:
- In contrast to John Beilein's offense, which was designed to create open space on the wings for three-point shots and clear out the lane for backdoor cuts, Huggins's offense creates space in traffic, often in the lane by setting and negating screens. One particular sequence comes to mind. John Flowers was being defended near the low post. He rubbed off his man and moved toward the basket as Alexander zipped a pass right over the defender's head for a Flowers layup. The total distance couldn't have covered more than ten feet and was in traffic.
- Huggins's offense also appears to be predicated on creating height mismatches. More than once, Alex Ruoff was isolated in the low post against a much shorter opponent, allowing a guy who never plays with his back to the basket to post up and hit an easy five-footer over the shorter defender.
- I know Huggins loves Joe Mazzulla for his moxie, but I think Darris Nichols is indispensable. His threes tonight were backbreaking. And, like Beilein said last year, I just feel calm when Nichols has the ball in his hands.
- Alexander's turnaround jumper appears indefensible, given the elevation he gets.
- Awesome ball-fake by Ruoff in the second half that seemed to send the entire Pitt team, bench included, to one side of the court, leaving him open for a three pointer from the top of the key that he sank.
A very satisfying win tonight. The St. John's game Saturday is on the road and the Mountaineers have had difficulty winning away from home.
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