Friday Feedback

January 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Welcome to the Friday Feedback, which, sorry to report, isn’t going to get into that story about the four players. I wrote a couple paragraphs about it, and they say all that needs to be said. Cited, possession, pre-trial diversion, charges dismissed. This is not to say it doesn’t matter. It’s four on-scholarship players who strayed from the responsibility that comes with privilege. I know that, you know that and I’m pretty sure they know that and will be reminded of that quite often in the near and distant future.

It’s news. I don’t think it’s headline news. I don’t think it’s something you bury, either. But there have been worse — far worse — things to happen to that roster this season and they got the coverage they deserved. I think this will, too.

So let’s move on…and perhaps we can even tie that to this. The four-year scholarship deal isn’t getting a lot of play even though student-athletes are now guaranteed a scholarship as long as they choose to stay at their school of choice for four/five years. (In case you didn’t know, the old scholarship model was a series of one-year pacts … and some places made their numbers, be they 13 or 85 scholarships, work by deciding not to renew replaceable players. No more. WVU wasn’t really for or against the idea that passed last week, but the Mountaineers didn’t see the need for it, either.

“It’s not a dramatic change in the sense that we have not taken anybody’s aid away since Dana’s been here based on athletic performance,” WVU’s Ryan Dorchester said. “I don’t think anybody would dispute that. It’s not a huge change from our perspective. I guess it gives a kid a little more security when it comes to the long term, but it’s still the same deal for us.

“If you’re academically ineligible or if you do something unlawful, those are situations where you can be removed from the team and your aid can be terminated. But for athletic or performance reasons, we haven’t done that. I think it’s important and I think it’s good, but for us, it was kind of like that anyways — just not on paper, which it is now. I guess maybe it’s kind of like Office Space. You just fix the glitch.”

The NCAA has been glitch fixing for a while now, and, since we’re in the season, we’ve long thought many of these student-athlete welfare initiatives would become recruiting tactics. Your stipends for cost of attendance will vary and thus be used as leverage. Further down the road, the you might see sports eliminated or the support dwindle noticeably, and some coach at some more affluent school will get in a recruit’s ear and whisper. Some leagues were going to offer multi-year full rides, and that would have been important to those programs, but that’s going to be the norm moving forward. Some of the other permissive legislation — like medical insurance, later education, etc. — will be used similarly.

This is the first signing day since the deregulation of eating and all the possibilities we thought that would provide.

Reality? The players on campus like it, and the ease of access is a major convenience. Walk-ons treasure the availability, to say nothing of being treated more like scholarship players now than ever before. The recruits? Hardly a factor at all, Dorchester said, when it comes to comparing one school’s training table to another and using that in the decision-making process.

“I would think we’d be pretty turned off if that was a big deal,” he said.

WELP! Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, have a code.

Rugger said:

Somewhere along the line Holton was conditioned to believe that pouting will get you out of a tough time. He’ll need to unlearn that before he can move forward. He’s clearly got the physical skills but he acts like Eron at 12.

With respect to Adrian, it seems that many of Huggs’ players develop confidence issues, perhaps from knowing they will get yanked at the first mistake. I’m not questioning Huggs’ methodologies, just an observation.

What happened to BillyD? Leprosy? Alien abduction? Extended Winter Break? Saving him for post-season?

Yeah, that Eron Harris comparison has merit. Holton carries fouls and misses and no-calls with him the same way … but I think he tries and wants more than Harris. That might be part of the problem, too. Every one of his teammates I’ve talked to said Holton wants to do something good so badly that he worries he’s letting everyone around him down when he doesn’t. More than anyone else on the team, he needs positive reinforcement because he sinks faster than anyone else. As for Adrian, I don’t know what to make of all of it except to say it’s a season-long slump with one 11-point deviation … when he was very good. But I watch him and I don’t see issues with effort or mental wherewithal. Confidence? Sure. But even when he’s not scoring, he’s trying to guard and defend and do something positive. Those things just aren’t happening. BillyDee has had problems acquiescing, so to speak. WVU really needs a scoring wing, no? 

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“…like trying to play chess outside a bee hive.”

January 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Damn. That’s no pinata, but that’s a good way to describe West Virginia’s press.

So is the rest of this story, one with a background tale and some deep statistics that combine to explain why the Mountaineers do what they do and why they are so successful at it.

“We tell our guys to take the ball out of the hands of the playmakers and let the guys who are not used to making plays make those guys handle the ball,” Harrison says.

Figuring out a pattern to when they’re going to trap, however, is almost impossible. They vary the kind of pressure to throw teams off. Sometimes they play full-court man-to-man. Sometimes they’ll employ a zone press.

The end result is most teams get sped up and don’t run their typical sets. The average possession for West Virginia opponents this season is 14.7 seconds, the shortest in the NCAA, according to kenpom.com.

“They do a great job of keeping you from running offense,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said.

The turnovers have led to so many easy baskets that West Virginia is a competent offensive team, despite poor shooting.

The poor shooting is why Huggins wants to make sure his team gets more shots than his opponent.

It makes sense for a roster that oozes athleticism and quickness but isn’t overly skilled. Point guard Juwan Staten is the only top-50 recruit, according to Rivals.com, coming out of high school.

Sign me up

January 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHyPrJAyH40

We’ve been busy tracking changes within the NCAA the past several days, from the historic vote authorizing total cost of attendance and four-year scholarships — historic because of what happened, but also because student-athletes were represented in the process — to an apparent leaning toward an early signing period in college football.

Seems like we’ve been discussing and debating this for a long, long time now, but given the climate and how people are not only willing to change, but actively changing the rules to better accommodate the sport and its participants, this seems more likely than not. Now, this is not to say there are no opponents, because there are some. Stanford’s David Shaw is not “alone,” as he professed, and he draws up some valid talking points about the motivation for the rule as well as the way student-athletes can skirt the issue.

That said, he’s outnumbered and the 32 Division I conference commissioners will act on a recommendation made at last week’s NCAA meetings to usher in a Dec. 16 date. Some conferences had proposed earlier dates, but this one gained and maintained the most traction, and for good reason.

West Virginia, which supports the total cost of attendance as well as the four-year scholarship, even if the latter doesn’t seem like a big change from the program’s normal practice, is also in favor of the pre-Christmas date, as well as one other change.

Say a school plans to sign 25 players and 15 sign in the early period. Rather than spend the period between the end of the regular season and signing day working to keep all 25 in line, coaches instead worry about 10 — and truth be told, they can probably afford to look around a little more for kids who are wavering elsewhere or suddenly available.

But that’s a lot less traveling for coaches. It’s fewer days of seeing one prospect in the morning in Charlotte, one in the afternoon in Atlanta and one in the evening in Broward County. If the recruit in North Carolina and Florida signed in December, then the work that day goes to the player in Atlanta, but also to the future.

“I think some schools will save money, which matters, but it’s not like people won’t go out and recruit,” Dorchester said. “But coaches are not going to want to get on planes if they don’t have to. If they go on a home visit with a kid you’re targeting and the kid’s a senior, maybe you spend that night with him and spend the morning checking in on a bunch of juniors in the area.”

With that in mind, there’s a small change that ought to accompany the large one. The spring evaluation period lets coaches visit a school, check on grades, watch a track meet or a spring football practice and not much else. There can be no contact. Dorchester believes the evaluation period could be redefined.

“I think that could be changed to where you can have contact with rising juniors at that time,” Dorchester said. “It could be something as simple as, ‘Hey, you can talk to underclassmen just on campus.’ I think that would be good and I think that would be something coaches would welcome.”

Iowa State beat Kansas State …

January 21, 2015 by Mike Casazza

… and Bob Huggins was impressed by the another Big 12 battle. (Aside: Jameel McKay…)

I will now welcome your translations. I do know Huggins really likes Fred Hoiberg and the Mayor respects Huggins and all he’s done, so there’s nothing there to suggest this is an extension of the rivalry between these two teams. I think it’s great.

Meanwhile, the Cyclones, who needed circumstance to prompt them to throw a junk defense at WVU and won by a bucket, have now beaten 10-time defending league champion Kansas and then-first place Kansas State in the past five days. They’re 4-1 in the Big 12 with wins by 2, 2, 5 and 6 points and a loss by 1.

That’s how you’re going to win this league. Close games, escapes, survival in spite of the occasional blip (which might be a blowout).

Remember when you thought K-State was a gimme or two? Forget that. You know about Marcus Foster, but have you seen what statistical anomaly/grizzly bear Thomas Gipson is up to this season?

This is nuts. You’ve got people engaged in thoughtful conversations based on a seemingly crazy question: Is the Big 12 the best conference … ever?

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been in,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who came to the Big 12 after helping guide the Mountaineers through annual Big East grinders. “You’ve got 10 really quality coaches and 10 teams who are obviously very good. In most leagues, you have an upper level and a lower level, and say we hope we can get these guys down here.”

That hasn’t been the case in the Big 12, which has six teams in the top 25 and if the season ended today, would have an excellent chance of sending eight of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament.

There are a million different metrics to measure the strength of a conference. If the season ended today, the Big 12 likely wouldn’t have a team boasting a top-two seed in any of the four brackets. Does that mean the 2009 Big East, with three No. 1 seeds, has a case as the better league?

What about the ACC back in 2004? Six of its nine teams went to the NCAA Tournament. That’s 67 percent. The Big 12 would need seven teams to make the tournament to top that percentage.

Additionally, all nine teams were inside KenPom.com’s top 100 that season. He gave it his unofficial nod as the best conference of all time, but where does the Big 12 belong?

Today, the Big 12 has seven teams in the top 24 of Pomeroy’s ranking (it is updated at least daily). TCU (No. 51), Kansas State (No. 85) and Texas Tech (No. 191) are the Big 12’s only teams outside the top 25.

“It’s one of the best conferences in the past 10 years,” Pomeroy said. “It’s hard to say it’s the best, but it’s in the top three or four.”

Coming attraction?

January 20, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Devin Williams said a lot after Saturday night’s loss, although it was only him and Gary Browne before Bob Huggins. Browne would have rather been about a hundred different places, and he was as disappointed in the defeat as he was determined not to let it happen again. Williams, though, was a little different.

I think if you ask the people covering the team, he’s a/the favorite to talk to. He’s honest. He’s not emotional. When he does dip into a cliche, it has purpose and a place. In short, his quotes have high utility, and his Texas postmortem was no different. WVU got a “collective ass whipping” that felt like “walking down the same road, man.” His coach, of course, had a slightly different take, not believing this year is like last year, and Browne was just mad enough to vow to make sure 77-50 wouldn’t happen again without ever getting into the history of the matchup and whatever frustrations may be attached to it.

Anyhow, Williams said something else without much other prompting that, on the surface, seems plausible if not realistic.

In its last six halves of basketball, each played against a ranked Big 12 team, No. 18 West Virginia has shot 36.1, 28.1, 40, 50, 28 and 20.7 percent from the floor.

Take a guess what three halves saw the Mountaineers staring at a 2-3 zone.

“I guess now we know what everyone’s going to be doing to us,” forward Devin Williams said after No. 17 Texas played its 2-3 for 40 minutes of a 77-50 win Saturday. “Eventually we have to figure it out or it might be the same result.”

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It’s Kevin White’s time

January 20, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but a WVU draft prospect has decided not to participate in this week’s Senior Bowl. Kevin White, who initially accepted an invitation, thought better of it, and that started to stimulate some Geno Smith parallels from two years ago.

This feels far different, though. Geno was arguably the top QB prospect in a draft that wasn’t particularly talent-laden on the QB side, so he was going to be probed and skewered. And though from start to finish he was projected to be anywhere from the No. 1 overall pick to an early second-round pick, he was never clearly one or the other and the most logical thought was a week-long audition at the Senior Bowl be good to him and for him. Even the No. 1 projections were based on him lighting up tests and combines and the like and the Chiefs sinking their future in him or hoping someone would trade for the opportunity to do so. Either way, Geno needed to do some convincing.

Then again, very rarely are the top picks subjecting themselves (read: stooping to) that exposure because they are thought to be, or think they are, better than in need of a stage to prove themselves. And we later found out skipping the Senior Bowl was at least bad advice and at most a source of conflict in his original camp.

White, it seems, is at best the top receiver  in a very good though not elite crop of prospects at his position and at worst a middle to late first-round pick. I haven’t seen him projected outside the first round, but I don’t know what mock draft to trust, especially before the Senior Bowl gets into action and opinions take root and grow.

Still, at the infancy of the process, you can tell opinions at the baseline vary — here’s one, and here’s one, and here’s one, and here’s one, and here’s one and here’s one — but that there’s a general theme: People like him. Every one of those teams has had eyes on White this season, some less often than others, some more excitedly than others.

And here’s the point, as well as the explanation for the title. Everything White did before merely got him to this favorable position, and he has much to do to push himself up or keep himself from sliding down. He’s out of sight this week, and if you look at the Senior Bowl rosters, perhaps you understand why: None of the 15 receivers are mentioned alongside White and his projections.

It would then stand to reason none are able to jump to a level where they could threaten White, though White now has to make sure he stands tall if they do, or that he won’t dip to their level.

Benny Reed gets his shot

January 20, 2015 by Mike Casazza

American Sniper is in the news for good and bad reasons, be they the award nominations and the reviews or the public reception and also the reviews, but let’s stand here and distance ourselves from all that. We do sports and WVU sports.

The actor who plays Bradley Cooper’s father also played quarterback for the Mountaineers.

“At the beginning of the film he’s beginning to shoot his first insurgent and he starts having flashbacks,” said Reed recently from his home in San Diego. “My role is to let the audience know how Chris Kyle came to be the man he is, how he got his values, his discipline and his work ethic.
“You see us deer hunting at the beginning and you see how he becomes such a good shooter because (his father) taught him how to shoot,” said Reed. “In the movie, you will see my character say, ‘You’ve got quite a gift.’ He’s got a natural gift anyway, but (his father) is training him to be a deer hunter.”
Another key scene in helping the audience better understand Kyle is a dinner discussion Wayne Kyle has with his young son explaining the three different types of people in the world, as he sees it.
“There are sheep, there are wolves and there are sheep dogs,” Reed, as Wayne Kyle, explained. “You are not going to be a sheep because they are followers and they can’t protect themselves. I’ll kick your %$# if you become a wolf because they prey on the weak and my character is trying to instill in him to become a sheep dog because they protect the flock and look out for others.”
Reed said playing Kyle’s father was easy to do because he had similar experiences while growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“There is a church scene and my character is a Deacon in the church and you are hearing a sermon,” said Reed. “You see the fire and brimstone type of service he listened to as a child – and I did too because I grew up in Oklahoma and it was a Baptist church I went to so it was kind of fire and brimstone also.”

 

Texas takes WVU to school, but which one?

January 19, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Probably the worst thing about Saturday’s loss to Texas was that it’s followed by a week off, hardly ideal circumstances for the team that has Longhorns in their heads and can’t do anything about that fact, or a fourth bad loss, until playing host to TCU Saturday — and if we’re honest, beating TCU doesn’t really move the needle.

As you’d imagine, there were separate schools of thought after the game, something of a split opinion with a truth that’s probably not even in middle, but isn’t entirely on one side of the fence, either. The obvious take is 77-50 was more of the same from last year — and Devin Williams confessed as much afterward.

Bob Huggins, on the other hand, would not board at that port. Far, far from it, in fact.

“How in the hell can you say that?” coach Bob Huggins said after the 77-50 defeat against No. 20 Texas. “We’re 15-3. How in the hell can you say that it’s like last year? It’s not like last year. It’s not like last year at all.”

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WVU v. Texas: 0-0 no more

January 17, 2015 by Mike Casazza

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You are looking live at black-clad West Virginia warming up inside the Frank Erwin Center, and the 20th-ranked Mountaineers will wear their coal colored uniforms for the first time this season.

Of course, WVU tried this last season and it did no go well.

That was then and this now, and that’s more or less the theme of this trip for the Mountaineers, who are the higher ranked team and the one that hasn’t lost back to back games and three out of five and seek to get the better of the team that beat them down three times last season. Las Vegas, which has the Longhorns as a three-point favorite, has the over/under at 136.5 points today and that just seems, for lack of a more appropriate word, tall.

I don’t need to tell you much more about the keys of the game, except to say they remain true. Texas is big and sits back in a 2-3 zone that WVU is going to have to crack.  The passing has to be better than it was against Iowa State’s zone, which isn’t as good as the one Texas will use. Making shots and driving the ball will help, too. The Longhorns play a slower game because the zone tempers teams. The 64.9 possessions per 40 minutes ranks No. 255 nationally. WVU does itself a great service tonight by turning the ball over and making more of the fact Texas gets fewer possessions.

The Longhorns turn the ball over on 21.1 percent of their possessions. WVU forces its opponents to turn the ball over on 31.4 percent of their possessions — the best (worst?) rate in the country. In the four losses, Texas has committed more turnovers three times (minus-21 overall) been outscored in points off turnovers three times by a combined 56-32.

Let’s steal away some space for the live post…

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Mack watches The Bachelor

January 16, 2015 by Mike Casazza

No F Double because I’m traveling — I can handle some questions in the comments — but solid work as usual this week. We’ll bring down an establishment one of these days … which is what West Virginia seeks to do tomorrow night.

Simply put, no one messed with the Mountaineers quite like Texas did last season: 3-0 record, wins by 11, 17 and 17 points that were never that close because the Longhorns had leads of 21, 21 and 30 points, shot better than 50 percent in five of six halves (and 48 percent in the sixth) and had more than 100 points in the paint.

But WVU is bigger in addition to better and better as a result of being bigger. The Mountaineers have held up nicely so far against size in the Big 12, and not quite as nicely against LSU, but looking solely at that overlooks what might be most important.

WVU’s counter is not its size to match Texas’ style, but the style the Mountaineers present that the Longhorns have to counter.

“Speed negates height,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “Height doesn’t really mean anything when you have to dribble the ball against speed and pressure. Height is really only effective in half court.”

That was true throughout last season’s contests. Texas outscoured WVU 102-62 in the paint and was able to get dunks and layups among a long list of easy scores. Yet WVU’s offense is a factor, too, that can go at Texas’ strength. The pace on offense generates pace on defense. WVU believes its plan and personnel can counter for the Longhorns.

“A lot of people now are using their bigs to try to break pressure and they’ve got them bringing the ball up the floor and trying to get it to their guards and get into whatever they want to get into,” Huggins said.

“Then when the shot’s taken, Jon Holton runs like crazy – and he does run now – and his guy’s got to sprint like crazy to catch him on the other end so he doesn’t get a layup, and Wanny does a great job pushing, so if Jon’s open, he’s going to get it to him. But (opponents are) constantly running, which they don’t do every game. We do. Other people don’t.”

Sorry if that doesn’t excite you, but what else do you want to talk about? How E.G.G. thinks renewing the Marshall series “makes sense”?