Saturday, March 22, 2008

West Virginia Preview

Let's take a closer look at the Mountaineers, this afternoon's opponent. After Thursday's win, West Virginia moved up to #19 in the Pomeroy Ratings. Their adjusted offense and defense are about equal relative to other schools - the former is 23rd in the country, the latter 24th. West Virginia played a very light non-conference schedule. They lost to their two toughest opponents (Tennessee, by only 2, and Oklahoma by 6), and their toughest foe after that was either Winthrop or New Mexico State. In conference play, they got to 11-7 largely by avoiding bad losses - their two best wins in conference play were over Marquette and Pittsburgh, both at home. The remaining nine victories were over Syracuse, St. John's (twice), Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence (twice), South Florida, and DePaul. Thus, against top competition, the Mountaineers generally lost - 2-7 against the top 50 in the regular season.

As mentioned on Wednesday, the single thing the Mountaineers do best is avoid turnovers - 6th in the nation in terms of holding on to the ball. That's helped propel a team with shooting and rebounding that are both just slightly above average to the top 10% of the offensive rankings. Each and every West Virginia player is stingy with the basketball - Nichols, Ruoff, Alexander, and Butler are all in the top 500 in the country for their low turnover rates. When it comes to putting the ball in the basket, all four mentioned above are equally capable (and almost equally responsible). Ruoff and Nichols are the outside specialists, Butler and Alexander love working inside, and Alexander gets to the line a lot (where he's an 81.3% free throw shooter). Ruoff's easily the best shooter on the team, and one of the best in the country - his 61.0% efg ranks 50th.

Aside from Jamie Smalligan, whose minutes are limited, West Virginia lacks a big body in the middle. But they do have 5 guys who run between 6'6" and 6'8", at least three of which are on the court at any given time. This is not a small team, particularly on the wings, where they will have a size advantage over Duke.

West Virginia has discarded much of Beilein ball, but it's likely that these players remember its principles. After seeing how well the spread and backcuts by Belmont worked, look for West Virginia to reach back to last year, at least some, and spread guys around the perimeter to test Duke's defense. For Duke, it would be ideal for them to adopt an attack mentality in this game, and try to get the ball going toward the basket via the drive or the pass. West Virginia is very foul prone, and although Wellington Smith and Joe Alexander are good shotblockers, they tend to pick up early fouls. The Mountaineers are not particularly adept at defending the three, so if Duke can get the perimeter guys looking to help on drivers and cutters, it could open up better opportunities from the outside. And Duke has to be careful not to give the ball away. Over the past month, Duke's turnover percentage has been a problem, and they've been committing some of the same unforced errors that plagued them last season. West Virginia is not particularly aggressive about trying to take the ball away, so Duke can't help them out by giving it up for free.

Of course, foul trouble and turnovers won't matter as much if Duke can't hit shots. Keep an eye on Duke's efg% throughout the game. If it's 50% or better, smile - Duke is 23-1 this year with an efg of 50% or more (Miami is responsible for the 1). If it's under 50%, be concerned. When Duke isn't hitting the equivalent of half their shots (remember, you only need to hit 1/3 of your threes for a 50% efg), they're just 5-4, and the wins are over Princeton, Cornell, Temple, Georgia Tech, and Belmont. Reaching 50% has been less certain in recent weeks - the team has failed to hit that mark in 5 of the last ten games, after being at least that efficient in 19 of the first 23. So Devils, go out there and hit your shots today, and let's head back to the Sweet 16 - it wasn't the same last year without you!

Around the ACC

Carolina cruised, to no one's surprise. It was their most efficient offensive performance of the year, and they excelled in all categories - 65.5% efg, 12% turnover rate, and 58.1% on the offensive glass (the Heels got 18 of their 31 misses). That earned the regulars a healthy rest - Wood, Moody, Wooten, Tanner, and Campbell played the last 5 minutes of the game, and only Hansbrough, Green, and Ellington played more than 20 minutes. Of ever so slight concern, Mt. St. Mary's scored almost a point per possession. But that number was helped by 5 minutes against the scrubs - before the walk-ons came in, UNC's D Rating was around 90 - still high for an opponent like Mt. St. Mary's, but less cause for concern.

Jack McClinton pulled the Canes on his back and carried them by St. Mary's in the second half, putting up 30 of his 38 points in the last 20 minutes. He was 12-19 from the floor, including 3-6 from 3, and hit all 11 of his free throws. As a reward, the Canes earn a second round matchup with Texas on Sunday, who rather easily disposed of Austin Peay.

And then there was Clemson. With a few minutes left in the first half, it was 36-18, and I was thinking about putting on a movie. Then Nova cut it to 12 by halftime. And then the Tigers went ice, ice cold. 7 of 28 in the second half, including just 2 of 16 from behind the arc. Conversely, 'Nova couldn't miss - 11 of 17, including all four 3-pointers, and a very impressive 22 of 27 from the line. All in all, it ended up being a 24 point turnaround in under 24 minutes, and the Tigers suddenly found themselves heading home. Another frustrating come-from-ahead loss for the 2008 Tigers to put on their mantle next to the two Tar Heel games, and a trendy final four pick bowed out in the first round.

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