2014/11/24 8:46 am
Finally, something to be happy about in Morgantown.
Let's face it, folks. It's been a rough few years for Mountaineer Athletics in the revenue sports. (Shout out to the Rifle Team, though. We see you beastin'.)
There was about a 2-week period in the football season this year where we all thought things might be finally back on track. (ESPN Gameday even came to town for the TCU game that suddenly feels like it was several years ago.) But after 3 straight losses, depression has returned to that end of Patterson Avenue, and Mountaineer fans were hoping that the other end of the street might bear some better news.
And it sure has.
WVU beat #17 UConn last night in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship Game to move to 5-0 on the season with a resume'-building win over the reigning National Champions on a neutral floor. They're playing an exciting, full-court pressure style of defense that's leading to turnovers, fast breaks, dunks, and W's. They've got the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year in Juwan Staten running the show with a mix of exciting newcomers and established veterans behind him in a ceaseless stream of guys coming into the game to keep up the high-intensity style of play. They've got frontcourt depth the likes of which most Mountaineer fans can't ever remember in Morgantown.
And at least so far, they've managed to move past the sort of me-first, divisive team basketball that has plagued them over the past few rough seasons, surviving the high-profile transfers of their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers last year, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, and several key contributors the year before.
Subsequently, they're ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
WVU's depth has allowed them to turn up the pressure on opposing teams.
(Photo by Patrick Raycraft here.)
So who saw this coming? Bob Huggins, for one.
When asked in this CBSsports.com article if he liked the state of the Mountaineers before last season started, Huggins thought about it and said, "We're so young, but I think so. I think we're going to be a really good a year from now. Not just good, but really good."
Right now, his team is making him look like a wise, wise man.
Staten and Devin Williams are the two returning major contributors from last season, and while Staten's line of 16-4-2 isn't as eye-popping as last year, he's done it while playing 10 less minutes per game so far in the young season. Meanwhile, The Goggles are a serious threat for a double-double every single night, averaging 14 and 9 so far, providing low post scoring, passing, rebounding, and defense. But these guys were known quantities. Expectations were high for both of them. The newcomers have been the pleasant surprise.
Mountaineer fans have patiently waited for the day that Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton could suit up; both of them were highly-touted players that encountered eligibility problems with the NCAA. Macon was a member of the 2012 recruiting class, while Holton was a junior college transfer before last season. Now that both of them are eligible, WVU has frontcourt depth that very few teams in the nation can match. The breakneck pace of a full-court press wouldn't be possible if WVU didn't have the ability to sub in Williams, Holton, Macon, Nathan Adrian, and (eventually) Brandon Watkins and Kevin Noreen, both presently out with injuries. Those are 6 guys 6'9'' or taller that are all capable of double-digit scoring and rebounding along with tenacious defense.
When's the last time WVU had more than ONE guy that could provide that?
At the same time the frontcourt is loaded with guys ready to run, the backcourt also features support behind Staten that allows Bob Huggins to not only prevent Staten from playing the insane 37 minutes per game he played last season, but to also keep up the pressure while he's out. Freshmen Javon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr., junior Jaysean Page and senior Gary Browne are all averaging more than 5 points per game. Perhaps more indicative of the Mountaineers' new style of play, they (along with Staten) are also all averaging more than a steal per game. (Daxter is averaging .8 steals per game, but I rounded up. Last night's win has me in a generous mood.)
Additionally, WVU will be getting freshman BillyDee Williams back from injury soon to provide even more depth and athleticism, in addition to a Great Name Hall of Fame candidate.
The result is a trapping full-court press that was a staple of Bob Huggins teams for years before he came to West Virginia. When Huggins first arrived in Morgantown, I wrote a season preview blog that predicted the sort of pressure he was famous for. It included these words:
How dedicated is Bob Huggins to the idea of pressure defense? The title of his autobiography is "Bob Huggins: Pressed for Success."
Any guy that chose this picture for his autobiography is apparently pretty intense.
How dedicated is Bob Huggins to the idea of pressure defense? He sells coaching DVD’s called "Smothering Pressure Defense - Dominating the Box", "The Pressure 1-1-3 Zone Defense", "Full Court 1-3-1 Trapping Defense", and "The Evolution of Pressure Defense."
But we never saw it. WVU's lack of depth wouldn't permit this sort of high-octane, high-energy pressure on both ends of the floor. Much ink has been spent and much bandwidth has been dedicated to the Bob Huggins recruiting classes that, for whatever reason, never seemed to pan out. From transfers to injuries to academics to substance abuse, whatever the reason, the Mountaineers haven't had a full recruiting class capable of providing this sort of depth since Huggins arrived.
Now that they do, it's interesting to see the REAL Bob Huggins style being implemented.
“We have to play more people to play this way. The game is faster, there are more possessions, there are generally more fouls called – you get tired,” Huggins said following the home win over Lafayette last week, as quoted in this article from WVillustrated.com.
And with wins like Sunday night's in Puerto Rico, this new style of play and the results it's generating are certainly providing a notice to the rest of the college basketball world that the hibernating (Huggy)bear in Morgantown might finally have woken up.
2014/10/20 4:59 pm
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD FOOTBALL CHAT**
ya_herd_mah: yeah baby this is our year!
ya_herd_mah: WVU fans are so jealous of us right now.
ya_herd_mah: cato is a LEGIT heisman candidate, we're undefeated, we're ranked...
ya_herd_mah: they are SO lucky they were too chicken to come to the JOAN this year. we would have destroyed them
**MARSHALL UNIVERSITY HAS DEFEATED SUMMERS COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL 54-20**
ya_herd_mah: WOOT BITCHES keep that winning streak rollin
ya_herd_mah: i bet those wvu fans are just sitting up there in total misery thinking about us being ranked and undefeated. cato is totes gonna win the heisman and that's something they've never done
ya_herd_mah: god i wish we played this year we would beat that ass so BAD
**MARSHALL UNIVERSITY HAS DEFEATED PIKEVIEW HIGH SCHOOL 48-14**
ya_herd_mah: YEAH BABY WHEN DO THOSE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS START
ya_herd_mah: there's no way they can keep us out over a team with a loss on their record like alabama or auburn. i mean, undefeated, it don't get better than undefeated
ya_herd_mah: those wvu fans are just dying cause we're getting all the respect and cato is a BEAST that won't be denied that Heisman
**WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY HAS DEFEATED #4 BAYLOR 41-27**
**AP POLL HAS ENTERED THE CHAT**
ya_herd_mah: SON OF A BITCH!!!
ya_herd_mah: at least cato's still the heisman frontrunner
**SI HEISMAN WATCH HAS ENTERED THE CHAT**
SI_HEISMAN WATCH: http://www.si.com/college-football/20 ... tch-week-8-everett-golson
ya_herd_mah: WUUUUT ?!?!?!
ya_herd_mah: EXCUSE ME WHAT PART OF UNDEFEATED DON'T THESE IDIOTS UNDERSTAND
ya_herd_mah: THIS IS BULLSH
**ya_herd_mah HAS LEFT THE CHAT**
**ya_herd_mah HAS ENTERED THE CHAT**
ya_herd_mah: damn vonage internet
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE WVU FOOTBALL CHAT**
WVU_Fans: /see new AP rankings
WVU_Fans: lol Marshall was RANKED?
2014/03/18 11:51 am
Dear Ezra Edelman, ESPN, and all producers of "Requiem for the Big East," and 30 for 30,
Hi. You don't know me, but I'm from West Virginia. Born here, lived all over the state, still live here.
I'm sure you didn't give the State of West Virginia, its people, or its university even a casual thought in the production of your 30 for 30 film, "Requiem for the Big East." I'm certain of this because if you did, you wouldn't have used tired, tripe stereotypes when glossing over the inclusion of West Virginia University in the Big East, a program that almost single-handedly kept the conference alive as long as it was.
The hypocrisy was bad. The complete ignorance of facts was worse. Let me explain.
Mere moments after the documentary justifiably disparages fans around the league for ignorant stereotyping of Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, you yourself chose to use an ignorant stereotype of West Virginia when portraying WVU's entrance into the league over black and white footage of hillbillies dancing on their front porch and banjo music while an anonymous coach is quoted as saying "I didn't join the Big East to play in Morgantown, West Virginia."
(Boy, it sure is distasteful when people use tripe, baseless stereotypes to disparage an entire group of people, isn't it?)
I'm not going to bore you with a lecture on how West Virginia as a state isn't made of a citizenry of barefoot, toothless hillbillies with a shotgun in one hand and a banjo in the other. I'm going to hope that anyone capable of reading this letter understands that generalization of a state with 1.5 million people with a single ignorant stereotype is the hallmark of ignorance. Though it may interest you to find that the state you so casually insult in a sports documentary is the birthplace of sports icons Nick Saban, George Brett, Randy Moss, Sam Huff, Bill Mazeroski, Mary Lou Retton, and Jimbo Fisher.
Oh, and a guy named Jerry West.
Suffice it to say that I don't think Jerry West plays the banjo. And I don't either. And neither does anybody I know.
Not to spoil your narrative, but I don't know anybody that looks like this.
Now maybe your response is that the inclusion of such footage and music was an editorial decision to reflect the mindset of some of the bluebloods of the Big East when the decision was made to expand to Morgantown.
They can kiss my ass for that sentiment, and so can you for including it.
What you may see as an innocent jab at a people and a region furthers ignorance much in the same way that the fans shouting racial slurs at the Georgetown players did. You praise John Thompson (again, justifiably) for stepping in and addressing it. That's what I'm doing here.
Perhaps even more disturbing, though, is just how much was WRONG about your portrayal of the breakup of the Big East. The documentary bemoans the fact that football tore the league apart because of schools that leaving to chase the Almighty Football Dollar, and does so at one point in the film over footage of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith leading the Mountaineers onto the field, implying that WVU was part of the reason the league disbanded.
The death knell of the Big East did come with conference members chasing football money, but West Virginia University had nothing to do with it. It was only when Pittsburgh and Syracuse declared that they'd be leaving the conference to join the ACC that the writing was on the wall for the Big East, a fact that is almost casually mentioned as an afterthought in the film. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim and Syracuse are let off EXTREMELY lightly on this issue (presumably because he participated in the documentary.) He gets by with saying, "Well, the Big East changed every year." And you leave it at that. The kid gloves are most decidedly on when dealing with the greed that split up what was still the greatest basketball league of all time.
But the Big East hadn't changed much over the course of 5 years at the point Syracuse and Pitt took the money and ran to another conference. The only defections took place in 2004 when Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College left for the ACC. The league added DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, and South Florida in 2005, and remained relatively unchanged until Syracuse effectively blew the whole thing up.
Only after the darling subject of your documentary, Syracuse, announced its decision (along with Pitt) to leave the Big East did other schools like Louisville and West Virginia start actively seeking a lifeboat to flee what was almost certainly a doomed league. The editorial misguidance can be seen in the inclusion of a graphic that I literally had to stare at for a few minutes to make sense of it. You included the makeup of the Big East by member schools through the years, then included 2012 with Syracuse and Pitt in the Big East with WVU out.
The only reason Syracuse and Pitt stayed in the conference while the Mountaineers moved on to the Big 12 a year prior is that WVU ponied up the buyout money necessary to find a landing spot, rather than sticking around to see where the pieces of the Big East landed after Pitt and Syracuse put a stick of dynamite to it.
News flash- this happened before WVU left for the Big 12.
Perhaps most perplexingly though, the documentary featured a total omission of the contributions of some of the football-playing members (most notably Louisville and West Virginia) in keeping the league together as long as it was through their efforts on the football field. As covered in far more detail in another WVU-centric criticism of your film on thesmokingmusket.com, the saving grace of the Big East in the BCS era was West Virginia winning the Sugar Bowl in 2006 and the Fiesta Bowl in 2008 along with Louisville winning the Orange Bowl in 2007.
The documentary correctly posits that the money in college football dwarfs the money in college basketball. And let me tell you, it wasn't Syracuse or Georgetown keeping the coffers full in the conference after the defections of Virginia Tech and Miami- it was WVU and Louisville (with a little help from Rutgers and USF.) At a time when talk circled about stripping the Big East of an automatic BCS berth (when the BCS was EVERYTHING to the legitimacy and financial integrity of a conference), it was the Mountaineers beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl that kept the wolves at bay.
As noted by the previously-linked article from The Smoking Musket, there's a reason that Mike Tranghese referred to that win as "the seminal moment" of his tenure as Big East Commissioner.
Without that and the other BCS Bowl wins, the inevitable breakup of the Big East happens far sooner. Your longing sighs for the 2009 6-OT Syracuse/UConn Big East Tournament game and gazes through tear-stained eyes at the final matchup between Georgetown and Syracuse in the Tournament in 2013... none of it happens.
Cry for the demise of the Big East and your precious Georgetown/Syracuse rivalry all you want, but it was this moment that kept the party going as long as it did.
I think what upsets me most is that as a WVU grad and fan for the entirety of their stay in the Big East, I LOVED the Big East. I loved being in the Big East Tournament in New York City at Madison Square Garden. (WVU winning the Big East Tournament in 2010 remains one of the most thrilling sporting events of my life. One particular youtube highlight reel from that tournament has 24k views and I'm probably 5k of them.) I loved the rivalries that developed. Some of my most treasured memories are of football games against Miami, Louisville, and (believe it or not) Rutgers. Of basketball games against Carmelo Anthony, DeJuan Blair, Emeka Okafor, Roy Hibbert... etc.
Unfortunately, I came away from your documentary totally disillusioned about those wonderful times. Your treatment of WVU in a film about the Big East was disrespectful, classless, and uninformed.
I understand we weren't as relevant to the history of the league as Georgetown, Syracuse, St. Johns, and Villanova. But 15 years in a conference, winning BCS games, giving the conference credibility, winning the VAUNTED NORTHEAST IS SUPREME IN EVERYTHING conference tournament in MSG, Final Four, Elite 8, Sweet 16's, and we get relegated to 5 seconds of hillbillies, banjos, and an intimation that we were to blame for the end of it all...
Fortunately after some time of reflection, I realized that my memories shouldn't be tainted by your film.
But they shouldn't have been in the first place. And you should be ashamed.
2014/02/13 9:44 pm
Back in 2006-2007, Joe Alexander was a middling, moderately productive player for a Mountaineer basketball team headed to the NIT under John Beilein in his last year in Morgantown before heading to Michigan. Alexander was known for his flashy dunks and athleticism, but hadn't put the pieces together yet to really stand out on a team searching for a star, averaging 10 points, 4 rebounds, and a block per game.
Then, under Bob Huggins in his first year as WVU head coach in 2007-2008, Joe Alexander transformed before our eyes from a guy who would contribute to a game to a guy that would dominate it. And what was so startling was that the transformation seemed to happen as the season went along. Just look at his game-by-game stats from that season: http://statsheet.com/mcb/players/play ... /joe-alexander/game_stats
Suddenly the guy that was averaging 14 points per game was throwing down 30+ point games against UConn and Pitt, looking absolutely unstoppable in the process. Suddenly WVU had a guy that could go toe to toe with any college basketball player in the nation. Suddenly the ceiling of an otherwise unremarkable team went from "on the bubble" to "Sweet 16."
This moment caused me to spill a LOT of beer on the floor...
It really was remarkable how much it seemed like the whole team responded to having a legitimate star on the floor. The season turned around, the team was a blast to watch, and you never knew what highlight play he was going to pull out of his ass.
So, why the trip down memory lane, you ask?
Does any of this sound familiar?
Because it's happening again.
Juwan Staten is making a similar impact on the 2013-2014 WVU Basketball team. His improvement from last season to this season is nothing short of startling. The numbers don't tell the whole story of his evolution, but even still, they're incredible:
Last season: 7.6 ppg, 2.9 rebounds pg, 3.3 assists pg, 38% fg shooting, 0% 3pt shooting (!!!).
This season: 18.3 ppg, 5.9 rebounds pg, 6 assists pg, 52% fg shooting, 36% 3pt shooting.
He's DOUBLED nearly every meaningful statistic in the process of making a legitimate claim on Player of the Year in a conference that might have 3 of the top 5 picks in the upcoming NBA draft.
He's 1st in the Big 12 in assists, 15th in rebounds (as a POINT GUARD), 4th in steals, 4th in field goal percentage, and 2nd in points per game.
And by the way, he's 8th in the nation (and 1st in the Big 12- by a lot) in minutes played with 37.4. (That's out of a possible 40, for the math-averse.)
He never leaves the floor. He's too valuable.
And he's the main reason the Mountaineers have won 4 out of their last 5 Big 12 games, beating at least 3 surefire NCAA Tournament teams in the process, putting WVU squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and in 4th place in statistically the hardest conference in the nation when just a month ago an NIT bid seemed optimistic.
But like I said, the numbers (as amazing as they are) don't tell the whole story.
There hasn't been a game this year where Juwan Staten wasn't the fastest guy on the floor. His ability to create off the dribble gives the Mountaineers a go-to option at the end of any shot clock or late-game situation. He can either get to the basket or pull up for a 15-foot jump shot that honestly surprises you when it DOESN'T go in.
Nice ankles you got there. Be a shame if someone was to break 'em.
All of these accolades and accomplishments are all the more remarkable when considering where Staten came from last season. He was memorably benched by Coach Huggins halfway through the Season From Hell, and many stories looped him in with some of the headaches that caused nearly the entire roster to turn over in the offseason after a Huggins Housecleaning.
Staten admits that his head just wasn't in the right place last season, as evidenced by the following quote from this AP article:
Staten said last year he played “with a lot on my mind, just second guessing myself a lot. Not really focusing on me, just a lot about what people thought about me or what they were saying about me instead of just going out there and like my dad says, ‘Throw hell to the wind, play basketball.’”
Now, there isn't a Mountaineer who gets more praise from Coach Huggins in the press, like this quote from that same AP article:
“He’s been terrific,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I think he’s really studied film. He’s trying to learn the game. It has a lot to do with his decision making. He’s just gotten so much better with his decision making - of when to go, when not to go, getting the ball to other guys. And he’s worked really, really hard on just shooting. When he makes that 17-18 foot jumper, he’s hard to guard.”
And so it is that a guy who was otherwise ordinary last season came to strike fear into every opponent WVU plays this season. There isn't a team in the Big 12 that doesn't place their primary defensive emphasis on stopping Juwan Staten, despite playing on a team with solid scoring options like Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. (Both guys who, myself included, nearly every WVU fan expected to be the main engines that drove the Mountaineers this season.)
The Mountaineers now not only have a solid option at the most important position in basketball, but they might have the BEST option at the most important position in basketball.
They have a guy that can look eye to eye with anyone in the nation and think "we have a chance."
And some may say they've never seen anything like this before.
But we have.
And it was freakin' awesome.
And it looks like it might be again.
Scenes like this one after the 25-point win over #11 Iowa State on Monday hardly seemed possible a month ago, but Juwan Staten has turned WVU into a legitimate threat.
2013/11/27 8:13 am