No. 17 WVU 77, Texas Tech 58

February 1, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Turnovers, steals, points off turnovers, offensive rebounds, second-chance points, technical and flagrant fouls and even missed free throws! It was peak West Virginia on display Saturday and the Mountaineers drove the other team crazy before driving Texas Tech off the road in a rather easy home win.

“If you look at it, we would kind of say our whole game is one run. We play 40 minutes of a run,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “This game is all about runs. We know they’re going to have their runs. As long as we can stop them or slow them down or continue to score during their run, we won’t get too bothered by it. We know we’re going to keep applying pressure and at some point they’re going to break.”

WVU (18-3, 6-2 Big 12) shot 51.7 percent in the second half, matching the most-accurate half in Big 12 play, and made 5 of 10 3-point attempts to outscore the Red Raiders by 13. Devin Williams scored 12 of his 18 points after halftime and Miles scored 10 of his 12 in the second half to lead the way. Staten had 11 points and five assists and Gary Browne added 10 points and relentless defense on Texas Tech’s top scorer in the second half.

“It’s a very uncomfortable thing to play against – not that you can’t,” coach Bob Huggins said. “But it does make you uncomfortable.”

Miles, Browne, Staten and Jaysean Paige each made a pair of 3s for WVU, which was 9 of 22 (40.9 percent) in the game, the best mark in Big 12 play and the fourth-highest percentage of the season.

Robert Turner led the Red Raiders (11-11, 1-8) with 18 points, but he didn’t score and only attempted two shots in the second half.

“He got tired,” said Browne, who also didn’t score after halftime. “He got tired of chasing the ball. He got tired of going to catch the ball. He wasn’t effective in the second half. The easiest way to guard somebody is not to let him catch it. I go where he goes. That’s it.”

WVU v. Texas Tech: A dusty finish

January 31, 2015 by Mike Casazza

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You are looking live at Section 64 inside the Coliseum, which is where West Virginia’s football coaches and prospective student-athletes get to sit for games during official visits. It’s not the best view and it’s not the catty-corner floor-level site the team once enjoyed in the past and was once too close to the action and fan interaction in the past. This is more remote, I guess, and invites less interference.

WVU, of course, has a home game today and it’s the last weekend before signing day, which means more official visits. So at the end of the recruiting cycle, WVU had home games on successive Saturdays.

“Needless to say,” director of player personnel and recruiting honcho Ryan Dorchester said, “I’m very thankful for the schedule this seasons.”

And why not? Consider the situation since the 2011 signing day:

2011: Signing day is Feb. 2. Road game Saturday, Jan. 29, home games Sunday, Jan. 23 and Sunday, Jan. 16. (Sundays don’t count because families have to leave.)
2012: Signing day is Feb. 1. Road game Saturday, Jan. 28, home games Saturday, Jan. 21 and Saturday, Jan. 14.
2013: Signing day is Feb. 6. Road games Saturday, Feb. 3, Saturday, Jan. 26 and Saturday, Jan. 29.
2014: Signing day is Feb. 5. Home game Saturday, Feb. 1, road games Saturday, Jan. 25 and Saturday, Jan. 28.

“You don’t necessarily need them, but the kidsvlike them,” Dorchester said. “They get a little sense of the atmosphere and the fan support. They get to see the things you try and tell them about.”

Interesting point there because the TCU game was, shall we say, intense. Once again, the game looked to be in doubt for the home team toward the finish and people started streaming for the exit — and I’ll point out they marched up toward the exit level, which is to say from the pricey seats — only to rush back in and stand in the hallway area of the inner bowl. I’d kick them out and cite a fire hazard, to be honest, but I’m not in charge.

Before all of that — before WVU’s frantic finish in regulation, before overtime — Section 64 cleared out. The team and the visitors had a schedule to keep and they ran out of the time allotted to the basketball game. A dinner was to follow, which meant getting showered and/or changed for dinner and then traveling to dinner, and the team and the visitors didn’t have enough time to finish the game and then do everything they had and wanted to do before dinner.

Remember, that was a 2 p.m. tip, which is more ideal than a noon tip, and a it lasted 2 hours, 48 minutes. The team was long gone before Miles-to-Carter and before Trent Johnson earned a reprimand. Would that have made an extra impression on the visitors? Perhaps. It wasn’t possible, though

“If we stayed for the whole deal — those kids were tired,” Dorchester said. “They get up here Friday and do a bunch of stuff. They get up Saturday and do a bunch of stuff and then they’re at the basketball game. They get tired. A lot of them wanted a nap before we took them out to dinner that night.

“I understand it was a great ending and it was exciting, but that was the right call.”

Perhaps WVU and Texas Tech can expedite things today. Think of the children.

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Friday Feedback

January 30, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Welcome to the Friday Feedback, which sometimes just stares at the screen and wonders what’s wrong with people. Earlier this month — to be precise, 24 days ago — I wrote Bruce Tall was coming aboard the S.S. Dana and that Lonnie Galloway, Brian Mitchell and Joe DeForest, who each had contracts set to expire this month, would be there to greet him.

Additionally, sources said receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell and safeties coach/special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, who all had contracts set to expire this month, recently agreed to new contracts. Galloway and Mitchell agreed to two-year deals with raises while DeForest agreed to a one-year deal at a lower salary.

Everybody filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get the intel. I do it all the time because I want to make sure what I have is up to date. And if you’ve been here any length of time, you probably know I’m sort of fascinated by contracts. Call it a hobby, I guess. And don’t laugh at me. It’s that or, like, cigarettes or chew. Anyhow, the FOIA requests were filed and fulfilled and stories were written detailing signed contracts for Galloway and Mitchell (and some people lumped in JaJuan Seider, who agreed to a new deal before the bowl), and each was careful to note DeForest’s was not signed.

That’s not insignificant, but I don’t know how significant that really is. This wouldn’t have been a very big deal, I don’t think, if it had involved anybody other than DeForest. But that guy … man … I’ve never seen anything like it here. I got so many email and texts and phone calls about it. What’s going on? Please help me! My friends, who are truly terrible people, were sending me links to message boards discussing this saga, and those discussions, of course, insisted the reporting was wrong and the explanation was changing to cover up that inaccuracy (again, not as much friends as truly terrible people), and I couldn’t believe what I was reading (Aside: Thanks, Dirty Frank. I see you working.).

All I can tell you then is what I’m telling you now. Those three coaches agreed to new contracts all around the same time. Could have been at the same moment, for all I know, but let’s go with a broader window. Everyone I talked to for the linked-to story said it and said all three were coming back. Two subsequently signed. One did not, and I understand the identity of the exception makes that a story line. Never, though, did anyone suggest to me he wasn’t coming back. And saying someone “agreed to” a contract is not the same as saying someone “signed” a contract. The distinction is important when you write about things like this, especially here, where coaches have gone entire years without signed contracts. Remember, DeForest went a full season without a signed contract, but with a signed term sheet in its place. But what others wanted to see only seemed to push the story in a direction it was not headed. Maybe he hasn’t signed it because he’s not coming back and maybe the reporting is all wrong!

Hey, there may be some truth to that. Maybe he wasn’t happy with the pay cut and the one-year deal and maybe he went to the coaches’ convention trying to find a job. I’ll allow that. But all along the hope, if not the insistence, at WVU was he was coming back. So I’ll also allow that he was busy at a busy time, and possibly even pissed since he did lose his associate head coach title, and just didn’t get to it until Monday. It might not have been a big deal to him.

Here’s the truth about DeForest: He can coach safeties and he can recruit, Dana Holgorsen really likes and respects him and he gets too much blame for special teams travails — and I’m the guy who crushes special teams. He’s not the guy who coaches the punt returners, much like he’s not the guy who makes boneheaded decisions to, say, line up 70 yards from the punter, run up 25 yards and dive head-first into a return or to attempt over-the-shoulder catches on the 2-yard line or to stand near a bouncing punt. Yeah, he works with punters, but he didn’t tell the punter to kick left when the return was going right. Follow me?

We might not agree on that, and honestly, that doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters, and this might be awkward and forward, but who cares? I’ve been on planes and in hotel rooms and have spent quite some time thinking about this and answering and asking questions. Here’s what I gather happened and how I can explain this situation:

WVU had one opening on its staff. Holgorsen is no dummy, and he’s made veiled defenses of DeForest in past. He knows the easy move would be to let DeForest go and generate whatever good will would come of that, but he didn’t think that was the right move, even when he considered everything that’s on the line next season. So he looked at everything before what I believe we’ll agree is a critical season and decided, “I’m going to replace the QB coach/offensive coordinator with a defensive coach.” Further, he went to Tony Gibson, who he just granted a three-year, $2.1 million contract, and said, “I’ve got the offense covered. Gonna get a G.A. from Kentucky who played QB here for a second. What do you need for defense?” Gibson, who has coached safeties before, as well as cornerbacks, and knew the contracts for the cornerbacks and safeties coaches were set to expire and that he could easily do one or both on his own because he has in the past, said, “D, I need a defensive line coach. We’re not where we need to be, and we need someone who can get us there in a hurry.” (In my head, this is exactly how they communicate.)

Gibson wants to coach linebackers. He’s stated he’ll never pick another spot because he wants to be in middle of the action and he needs to understand everything front to back, and he knows the linebackers are the fulcrum. He doesn’t want to coach corners and/or safeties, I think, for two reasons: 1) Coaching both is too much for a guy who runs the defense and 2) He has good coaches there. I can’t stress this enough: If he wanted DeForest out, he could have said, “I’ve got safeties. Scrap, you get linebackers. Damon Cogdell, we’re getting you a guy who really knows the line and you, in your second season of college coaching, can learn and grow under his wing.”

That didn’t happen, and now we’ve got some wrinkles to iron out, wrinkles I firmly believe will be addressed on or right after Wednesday. Here’s my ribbon: Bringing DeForest back makes sense. The price tag  is cheaper — and he still makes more than everyone but Bradley and Gibson — and the $150,000 WVU saved helped keep Seider and Mitchell (Galloway re-signed for the same salary). Most importantly, WVU isn’t a place that needs ripples in the water. There have been too many for too long and if this is indeed a severely important season, Holgorsen and his loaded defense have one less thing to worry about.

Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, try it if you can do it.

hershy112 said:

The history probably points to academically ineligible, but hopefully it’s some of the less talented heading out. Looking at that roster, the O-line is looking pretty rough next year, and the offense in general I suppose. With the exception of maybe the RB position. Defense looks pretty strong though, with the exception of maybe the defensive line being a little thin. Time will tell.

All that being said, it is a rare, but exciting, position for WVU to be in. Some schools oversign every year (looking at you SEC), but hopefully WVU can handle this position of power without coming across as not caring about the kids.

Surely getting to 85 involves some combination of kids who don’t qualify and kids on scholarship who leave. Impossible to avoid. The former, you’ll have to wait on — though you might see some committed kids not sign Wednesday — and the latter is something I expect to hear more about at the end of this week.

JC said:

Mike, do the guaranteed scholarships apply to kids who are already under scholarship, or will be, once that whole thing starts?

Nope, but I wondered if the student-athletes were going to push for that. The first group to get them is the next group to get them.

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Wednesday did not go well for Trent Johnson

January 29, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Late in the day, the hard-luck Horned Frogs gave 10-time defending league champion Kansas everything it wanted before bowing out with another close loss.

Earlier, though, the TCU coach was publicly reprimanded by the Big 12 for his antics following Saturday’s loss to West Virginia.

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WVU flips the switch

January 29, 2015 by Mike Casazza

That list of 17 we discussed Monday just grew, as expected, by one with an unexpected flip flop from Shaquery Wilson who had been committed to Georgia since July. The pitch behind the switch? Come play receiver.

Seems like a good idea.

The bad and the beautiful

January 28, 2015 by Mike Casazza

If you’re Mack or if you didn’t see the game — or if you wouldn’t/couldn’t take it after a short while — consider the above photo a sufficient synopsis of West Virginia’s 65-59 win.

We’ve said this before, and we’re going to say it again, I’m sure, but after the 40 or 45 or however many minutes you need to get by or to get beat by WVU, you’re going to know you’ve played the Mountaineers. I’m not sure I’ve seen a quality opponent this season — that is to say, not VMI or College of Charleston or even Wofford — look or sound as spent and as shaken as Kansas State did after last night’s game.

Opinions will vary on that, much like opinions will vary among the participants. Bruce Weber is not a fan of WVU’s pressing style. I mean that: He called it “awful” and “bad basketball,” and he’s the one who coached his team to prepare for a barroom brawl — again, his words. The Wildcats walked away well aware of what they’d been through after a six-game home winning streak against ranked opponents met its end.

The Mountaineers made things difficult on the Wildcats from start to finish by defending every inch of the floor. They forced 25 turnovers and committed 28 fouls, taking finesse completely out of the game. K-State struggled against the pressure, constantly getting whistled with 10-second violations and losing possession on in-bounds passes, as well as throwing the ball away.

“We were not used to it, so were sped up a little bit,” K-State forward Wesley Iwundu said. “They just get after it before half court. That is probably the toughest thing.”

The Wildcats managed to beat it enough times to give themselves a shot. Problem is, they exerted so much energy doing so that when players did get open they rarely shot the ball with precision.

“I have never played in a game like that before,” K-State sophomore guard Marcus Foster said after scoring 15 points. “It was like a fight.”

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WVU v. Kansas State: Squaring up in the octagon

January 27, 2015 by Mike Casazza

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You are looking live at West Virginia’s warmups for tonight’s game in the Bramlage Coliseum, more appropriately known as the Octagon of Doom. Bruce Weber’s Kansas State teams are 42-5 here and the five losses are by a combined 14 points. (Interestingly, the losses are to Kansas and Texas, because, sure, they’re tough, but also Northern Colorado last season and in back-to-back games this season Texas Southern and Georgia.) Weber’s Wildcats are 20-2 at home in Big 12 play and have won 11 of 14 at home against ranked teams.

The Mountaineers, of course, are ranked No. 17 in both polls. And they’re 9-1 away from home, tied with No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Gonzaga for the national lead in wins in road/neutral games. (WVU includes that in its game notes now!) This will be hostile, tonight, because it’s always sort of hostile here, hence the nickname. And that nickname has its roots in the 2006-07 season … when the Wildcats hired Bob Huggins and awoke a fan base that was waiting for a jolt. They wanted to make their home a place where they were comfortable and no one else was and they sought a nickname. It really took off under Frank Martin in the 2009-10 season that ended in the Sweet Sixteen. But it’s a Thing and they pelple here take pride in it.

Speaking of Huggins, he left his mark …

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… and then promptly showed up at a press conference in the WVU Coliseum, which was about to hang a NIT championship banner some months later, and said, “Yeah, the NIT’s cool, and you can have that and be happy about that, but we don’t want any more of those on our resume.”

Got some items for your resume after the jump.

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Number crunch

January 27, 2015 by Mike Casazza

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That right there is the list of players committed to West Virginia’s 2015 recruiting class following a major weekend with a lot of visitors on campus. (h/t Rivals.com for having the only list I could fit into the blog). That list grew by one when offensive lineman Rob Dowdy, only one of the top prospects in all of Ohio, pledged following his weekend visit. It figures to grow and shrink some more. Khalil Lewis, for example, is looking around. He might sign gold and blue. He might not. Other kids there might get flipped at the last second. WVU might win in the 11th hour and flip some other kids. A few players, running backs and receivers probably most notable among them, will wait until signing day, or darn close, to pick between a final list of schools. And then there’s always a surprise, and Ryan Dorchester wants so badly to fly a B-52 in under the radar.

Let’s not forget, either, that quarterbacks Chris Chugunov and Davis Sills are already enrolled and will sign on signing day, and junior college defensive end Larry Jefferson and junior college cornerback Rasul Douglas have signed letters of intent (Jefferson is already enrolled). They’re not included on that list of 17 players. So WVU is at 21 (ish?) as I type.

Twenty-one is a really healthy number for WVU. And 21 is a potentially problematic number for WVU. Remember, last season was the first time Dana Holgorsen’s program hit its head on the scholarship ceiling. It handed out all 85. True, some were, for lack of a better word, solids to a kid who had put in the work and earned some relief during his senior season, but WVU was close and WVU remains close.

Here’s why…

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A little bit of everything

January 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Fun game Saturday at the Coliseum, and one West Virginia labeled a “must-win,” not because the Mountaineers are in a bad place or in any real postseason peril, but mostly because it was a “mustn’t-lose.”

“We have three losses this year and two came at home,” said point guard Juwan Staten, who rebounded from two poor games last week with 18 points and 12 assists against the Horned Frogs. “We really want to win the league and we really want to do something special. You have to win your home games and steal some on the road. We let some games get away here, which is why we had to protect our home from here on out.”

The Mountaineers (16-3, 4-2 Big 12) are now tied for third place in the Big 12 thanks in part to No. 9 Iowa State (14-4, 4-2) losing Saturday at Texas Tech. WVU can make a move toward the top this week when it plays at second-place Kansas State (12-8, 5-2) at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2 and then plays host to Texas Tech (11-9, 1-6) at noon this Saturday on ESPNU.

WVU dropped to No. 24 in the RPI during its week between games and jumped to No. 17 Sunday. It could have been worse with a loss to the Horned Frogs, who squandered multiple chances to win the game in regulation and overtime, and missed 6 of 12 free throws in the final 8:15 of the game.

“Honestly,” Staten said, “I’m not even thinking about if that happens. I’m glad it happened the way it happened.”

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WVU v. TCU: Round 2, Part I

January 24, 2015 by Mike Casazza

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You are looking live at the Mountaineer Manics TCU edition of the Musings. You’re probably here today because this thing is somehow sold out. If so, or if not, feel free to play along for 40 minutes.

This is also West Virginia’s first rematch in Big 12 play — that it happens against one of the weaker teams in the first half of the conference schedule is something … and that’s something we’ll get to at a later date — but expect TCU will be better today than it was 21 days ago. The Horned Frogs actually handled the Mountaineers press fairly well in the first half before WVU adjusted and did a few things differently and ultimately prevailed.

(Aside: Shield your eyes at times today. TCU can really guard, and WVU presses, but neither team can shoot it and both teams play a brand of defense that puts scoring at a premium. The over/under is 132.5, and if that hits the over, it’s because of WVU turning over the Horned Frogs a lot, you’d have to think. There’s a see saw to monitor between the week off being good for restoring shooting and inviting rust.)

But Trent Johnson is no dummy — coach of the year in three separate conferences — and he has guys this season who enable him to do more things he believes he can and wants to do. There will be some changes on both sides, subtle and not so, because teams scout and self-scout, and the deeper one team gets into a season the more awareness it has of itself and the opposition thanks to a more broad body of work.

In short, this is when things start to get really interesting and when a team is really tested.

This is also the time of the season the past few years when we’ve asked Bob Huggins and the coach has talked to his players about what the Mountaineers have to do to get into the NCAA tournament. Really, ever since the Final Four team, the story line late in the season — or in the case of two seasons ago, before it fell apart — was how many wins the team needed, where those wins had to come on the schedule and where losses absolutely could not occur.

This is not that. Barring something completely unforeseen, the Mountaineers will be back in the NCAA tournament this season — and they know that.

“It’s on the board,” Huggins said. “They walk in every day it’s on the board. The RPI, everyone’s RPI that we’ve played, what the RPI is for everyone we’re going to play. So they know. They know what’s at stake. They know what’s coming. They understand we go to Texas and lose, we go from 13 to 22.

“That’s not saying RPI is everything. I think it’s the most tangible thing we can do to make them understand.”

Huggins, who puts his hands on strength of schedule, too, said the board has been on display since the first game of the season, and the numbers started floating and the players started following them immediately upon surviving Monmouth (remember that?).

But there’s something new to this group about sort of knowing it’s in, and I think that’ll be interesting to follow. Remember, WVU made a push last season and knew it was driving toward the tournament and it used that as motivation. Then it went south and I think the letdown knowing the tournament was slipping away was too tall for them to reach out and grab and control again.

These guys aren’t talking about how many wins they need to get in and who they have to beat.

“There have been a lot of years we’ve talked about seeding,” Huggins said. “We talked about seeding in 2010. I thought really after we won the Big East tournament we’d be a 1-seed. I thing we ended up being the last 2.”

True, which seems absurd now as it did then, but WVU is having conversations and taking aim higher than merely making the tournament.

“The older guys understand,” Huggins said. “If after three games or whatever you look and see where the RPI is, and you hear them saying, ‘We need to do this to get the RPI down,’ it helps.”

Help me help you in the live post.

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