Second halves suit WVU

December 8, 2014 by Mike Casazza

(Heard about a West Virginia v. Virginia basketball game the other day, but didn’t think it was this: The Mountaineers and the Cavaliers will play in the 2015 Jimmy V Classic one year from today at Madison Square Garden.)

Weird little thing about this WVU team, in case you haven’t noticed. It’s typically a totally different team, and most times a much improved team, after halftime. There have been a few better-than-decent first halves this season, but mostly the Mountaineers win (and lost) with what happens in the second half.

I think more often than not this time of year you find that ranked teams rough up teams early and coast the rest of the way. Maybe it’s the structure of the roster or that Bob Huggins plays 10 or 11 or 12 people every game and that one or the other or both delays the deployment of Peak WVU. Perhaps the focus on the press is as detrimental the the development of the offense as it is debilitating to the other team’s designs.

Whatever the trigger, the Mountaineers, still ranked and now at No. 22, sometimes struggle in that first half, and Sunday night saw another episode with a dreadful opening 20 minutes … promptly followed by 20 emphatic minutes as the team nears the end of non-conference play.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing,” Devin Williams said. “Once we get in conference play, people are going to jump out on us and we can’t be getting punched in the mouth when we get in conference play. We’ve got to do what we do and bring some of our energy into every game.”

Williams’ other quote of note? It was about his debonair head coach: “When it’s time to put it on, he knows how to put it on.”

The best postgame moment? Oscar Robertson was at the game to see Huggins and O took pictures with WVU’s players and their friends and family members after the game. Jon Holton was in awe, first telling someone from his group, “Go get a picture with that guy. That’s Oscar Robertson.” When Holton was done with his interviews, he got his shot with O. “Don’t take any pictures with anyone else. I want this to be special.”

WVU v. Northern Kentucky: #TimesChange

December 7, 2014 by Mike Casazza

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You are looking at a previously taped segment in which West Virginia’s Juwan Staten warmed up and an ill-attired adversary watched on. Hey, you wear the No. 16 next to your name and the opponents wear hashtagged T-shirts. Fact.

Sorry for the delay. Scrambling a little with the bowl news (Liberty, as expected, against Texas A&M, which wasn’t necessarily expected). But we’re here now at the Bank of Kentucky Center, which is a really nice place for a smallish program.

Remember, there’s some history here, which is why w’ere here in the first place. The head coaches have known one another for a while and NKU has hired a former Huggins G.A. (Kevin Schappell) and player (Darris Nichols). Of course, the Norse also beat WVU in an exhibition in 2011. NKU will play two games at WVU in the future to square this.

This is, of course, a homecoming of sorts for Bob Huggins and Devin Williams. We’re in the shadow of Cincinnati, where Huggins built a powerhouse and Williams was born.

No pressure.

Let’s tip.

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Friday Feedback

December 5, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Welcome to the Friday Feedback, which is so glad it took time to go in on that unbeaten men’s basketball team yesterday. My bad. West Virginia played about six minutes of high-level basketball last night and about 34 minutes of ordinary basketball and came undone by not being able to do simple things — make free throws, rebound, make layups, guard, so on and so forth.

I’m not sure you should feel one way or the other about this team because of that game, but I think it’s fair to understand what the team’s flaws are and how they can become regular and heavy factors. If the Mountaineers don’t get/make easy baskets, they can struggle. That’s the same for a lot of teams, but because so much of what WVU does now is based on accentuating strengths (depth, speed and the press) and hiding weaknesses (half-court offense, shooting and possibly also size) those strengths can be sapped and the weaknesses can be highlighted if, you know, you miss 2-footers.

The Mountaineers missed eight layups, had more turnovers than assists (and had a really hard time passing), gave up 50-percent shooting after halftime and got crushed on the boards — wait for it — in a one-point loss.

“We’ve done things great at times and we’ve done things very poorly at times,” Staten said. “Right now, we’re an inconsistent team and we need to keep working and keep practicing our principles so they transfer to the game.”

We’ll give that a little more time once we begin, but before we begin, the answer to a question many of you have asked or at least wondered about lately. The football team, which is about to hand out $115,000 in bowl game bonuses and $75,000 in a retention bonus, has five assistant coaches who are working on expiring contracts. The deals for Joe DeForest, Lonnie Galloway, Brian Mitchell and JaJuan Seider expire Jan. 30 and Shannon Dawson’s expires in June, which, no, isn’t immediate, but is before the start of the 2015 season.

Dana Holgorsen likes continuity and decision have to be made, perhaps sooner rather than later.

Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, understand the message.

I love you, Doug! said:

So many winners! Had a least three LOL moments. Nice work everyone!

Here, then, are my regular-season grades for unit coaches:

- Dawson: C+ Yes, on paper, the numbers look good. But think of the times this team needed one first down this season and couldn’t get it. Think of the stubborn refusal to dump plays that are clearly telegraphed. Dawson and HCDH need some new tricks for 2015.

- Gibson: B+ Improvement everywhere especially in effort. Not worth an A, but worth a B+. Defense didn’t lose WVU games for first time in a couple years.

- Galloway: B- For vast improvement in White and Alford and integration of Thompson. Gets the minus for virtual disappearance of Shorts and failure to develop viable backup receivers.

- Seider: B – For general competence among backs. Gets the minus for failure to teach/enforce ball control.

- Crook: C- Maybe he didn’t have the horses, but offensive line’s play degraded during the season. Showed little resemblance to Crook’s units at Stanford. Needs to improve in 2015.

- Bradley (as senior associate head coach): B For stabilizing presence, ability to impart experience and maturity.

- Bradley (as defensive line coach), Codgell: C- Riddick was key player in key win of the season — Baylor — but non-factor rest of the season. D-line, save for Texas, played run well but could not put any pressure on QB. Needs to establish pass rush in 2015.

- Mitchell: B+ Cornerback play largely solid, especially after losing Worley and Chestnut.

- DeForest (safeties): C+ Play largely solid but one play — Joseph’s out-of-position moment vs. TCU — turned the entire season. Can’t happen.

- DeForest (special teams): An easy F and not just because he’s the whipping boy. Let’s tally. Offsetting Alford’s KR returns, this season on special teams we saw: punt return fumbles, punt return fumbles (lost), *no* punt returner, running into the kicker, offsides, kickoff out of bounds, punt return for a TD, kickoff return for a TD, fair-catching punts inside the 10, multiple penalties on one punt, blocked FG attempt and, in the final insult, allowing the worst team in the league to successfully execute a fake FG. I’m sure I’m missing some from our Bingo card. If HCDH renews DeForest’s contract, that alone should be grounds for HCDH’s immediate dismissal.

A dissenter appeared this week, because he liked the idea of grading coaches and was happy to see that someone did it and that people picked up on it, but he disagreed with Special Teams Joe DeForest. “You have to give him an E. It wasn’t an F because of Lambert, but you can’t give him a passing grade.” 

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WVU v. LSU: Ayers and Tigers and Huggs, oh my

December 4, 2014 by Mike Casazza

image

You are looking live at the Mountaineer Maniacs Musing for tonight’s chapter of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Good seats are available, thought Bob Huggins remains impressed bordering on content with the support of the student section. Remember, this is more than a preseason event. It’s nationally televised and WVU is something of an “it” program now that hasn’t lost, has a ranking and plays an appealing style. Huggins would rather like to add “great atmosphere” to the list, but that’s just so hard on a Thursday night during the Christmas shopping/can’t-take-Friday-off season.

“We’re hoping to get about 15,000 in here, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” he said. “But the students have been great. If all the students show up who have tickets, it’s going to be a great environment from a student stand-point.”

They’re holing out hope, though, for some late arrivals. Last home game of the semester, second-to-last home game before Christmas. A pretty good LSU opponent on the other side, too, and these teams have a little history that might be relevant to night, .

WVU sneaked into the Maravich center in November 2004 and strolled to an 84-69 victory, a game where everyone who played did something constructive. The Mountaineers thought they were going to be pretty good that season. They’d gone far in the NIT the season and they thought this guard who transferred from St. Bonaventure and could jump really high would be a great addition to the group. Winning that game in that place  was heavy, and afterward I remember asking Pat Beilein, who of course was among the most confident about what the Mountaineers could do,”What now?” His reply: “Everything changes.”

He was right, and WVU went to the Elite Eight. A season later, the Mountaineers played host to the Tigers and were stunned in overtime. At least, I thoguth I was stunned at the time, but that team was loaded and wound up in the Final Four.

So tonight, whoever wins is going to Indianapolis. Let’s see who it is…

 

 

 

“Bob, are you the 16th-best team in the country?”

December 4, 2014 by Mike Casazza

There’s a basketball game tonight that I actually get to attend, and I should be able to pull it off because Bryan Messerly reminded me yesterday of where I sit for games.

Good to know.

Remember, though, that the last time I saw West Virginia in person was the Lafayette game, which was 48 hours after a struggle against Monmouth. Twenty days later, which is not a long time early in a basketball season, the same Mountaineers are ranked No. 16 in the polls and No. 1 or No. 2 in some very valuable statistical categories.

There are indicators, if you choose to believe in them, that suggest WVU is a pretty good team. There are indicators, if you choose to believe them, that suggest it’s a bit of a ruse right now. There’s a coach and there are 12 players who choose to believe in themselves and are determined to strive for one and avoid the other.

I had to laugh a little yesterday and in recent days even at this suggestion: “We’ll know more about WVU after this game! It’s their stiffest challenge yet!”

Those things happened … as did the UConn game, which seems to reside under a rug, for some reason. LSU has talent, but it’s had some ups and downs this season. The Mountaineers were down for about 25 minutes and have been up ever since. I feel like the Huskies in Puerto Rico were more daunting than a home game against the Tigers.

Yet there’s a talking point to be drawn from that, because, honestly, WVU could be a top-10 team soon, which is frankly arresting. I won’t bore you with the scenarios, but teams in front of the Mountaineers have some tough games coming up. WVU has this one, which isn’t a small one, and then Northern Kentucky, Marshall and North Carolina State all away from home. Would it surprise you if the Mountaineers were 11-0 for the Dec. 22 home game against Wofford? If that’s the case, it’s probably a top 10 team. That’s crazy, no?

But the horse is way behind the cart here. Tonight, WVU is No. 16, which still seems sudden, if not realistic. But is it real?

“I don’t have any idea,” Huggins said. “I think at this time of the year the good thing about being ranked is you get your highlights on ESPN, which helps recruiting, and our guys enjoy it, but other than that, it really doesn’t mean anything.”

The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Iowa State

December 3, 2014 by Mike Casazza

dillontackle
K.J. Dillon is one of probably two players who is not supposed to make the tackle on this. I’d count him and cornerback Daryl Worley, who’s covering the wide receiver to Dillon’s right. Now, you don’t know this before the snap. Technically, all 11 guys can make the play before the snap, but once the play gets rolling certain players are logically eliminated. Running back Aaron Wimberly, to the left of the quarterback, gets this handoff and runs to his right. The defensive line, the linebackers, the other cornerback and the two safeties should make this play before Dillon and Worley.

And Dillon makes the tackle at the X. It was a wow play on a day when Dillon made a few.

Now, one of the reasons he’s not supposed to make the play is because of his assignment. He’s covering a receiver in the slot and he’s got a long way to run to get there. Someone else is supposed to make the tackle first, even a deep safety who can see the run and get there without having to deal with a receiver assigned to him. The other reason Dillon shouldn’t make this play is because, you know, someone should block him. That never happened and Dillon was locked in for about 20 yards before he slugged Wimberly.

This is all especially interesting because of the way Dillon was after the Kansas State game. It was tremendous.

“We stopped the run. They got some passes in, but I didn’t really like what they were doing. For them to beat us, they scored one touchdown. Everything else was a field goal. So we played pretty good defense in my eyes.”

Let’s not dissect that too much. But let’s understand that’s a guy who hates losing and hates it even more when he doesn’t feel like he’s been beaten. He just refused to give the Wildcats credit for the offense, which had 401 yards — 1 on he ground and 400 in the air. Tyler Lockett, who WVU spent more than a week talking about, caught 10 passes for 196 yards. Dillon didn’t like what they were doing, OK?

One of only a few defensive players who spoke after the game, Dillon was asked about Lockett’s night.

“I ain’t even see Lockett out there, for real. Next question.”

Certainly Dillon saw Lockett. But he was not about to relent, which I admire. I tried to convince my wife years ago that every time a basketball player made a basket or blocked a shot or took a charge or whatever against WVU and shouted “Let’s go!” that it was a jab at the (“Let’s go!”) Mountaineers. She was suspicious, and soon knew I was full of it, but I would not relent. Anyhow, there were a few more questions, and reporters came and went, and one of the late arrivals asked about Lockett. Dillon exhaled, and though clearly frustrated, he calmly replied.

“We did prepare for Lockett. I guess he almost had  200 yards, but I didn’t really see him out there. For that, I don’t have any answers. I don’t want to take any questions about him.”

I know some people who caught that, either on the radio or on videos online, and asked me about it. He didn’t SEE Lockett? He doesn’t want to talk about the guy who’s killed them for three years? Were you pissed? I guess I could  have been bent since he came out to talk and didn’t talk, but I wasn’t. First, he answered my stuff. Second, that’s Dillon. Remember Flagrant Striking? He doesn’t run the mill. He was mad and I don’t think he felt like his hands weren’t dirty. For all I know, he might have kept some bad things in, which is better than letting them go. Whatever. My takeaway was he still said something by not saying something.

And of course, actions have a greater volume, and Dillon was turned all the way up Saturday. I have little doubt the way he felt after Kansas State and the way he played against Iowa State were connected. He was terrific. Best I’ve seen him play. He made 11 tackles. Five were solo. Six were assists, and each was indicative of how he played. He ran around like crazy and made plays or helped make plays. The 11 and six were career highs.

And he danced!

West Virginia’s defense submitted another one of those shape-shifting performances that have come to define this season. Those Mountaineers dominated third downs, the run game and the pass game for about 40 minutes, and Dillon was a big reason why. How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Iowa State.

Good: Trice!
Iowa State isn’t terribly good, but isn’t terrible, either. There are a lot of underclassmen and there were a lot of major, major injuries this season. The coach isn’t going anywhere, but some things have to change. The crowds have dwindled and the support has waned, which is bad because that’s one of the elements that has in the past distinguished Iowa State. That stadium Saturday was not the place people fear to venture into when something important is on the line. There’s a certain audacity that goes along with saying 50,058 were in the building for that game. But when it’s that empty, the players can hear the stadium audio and can strum air guitar to Thunderstruck. (Side Bad: The Cyclones were outscored 30-3 from that point forward. 7NA!)

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Back to the bench, which is totally cool

December 2, 2014 by Mike Casazza

We’re going to give this the side eye for now for two reasons:

1) Dana Holgorsen said something similar a week ago, and later admitted he was intentionally (and understandably) deceptive.
2) We’re 27 days (or 31) away from whatever bowl game West Virginia will play.

Still, Holgorsen said it, so we’ll stand on it for the time being. Skyler Howard is about to become the backup again because though Clint Trickett didn’t play  Saturday, he was never not the the starting quarterback.

“Clint’s still our quarterback,” he said. “He’s done a bunch of great things all season long and we anticipate Clint being cleared and ready for the bowl game.” 

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Big 12 green lights reform

December 1, 2014 by Mike Casazza

The league West Virginia calls home adopted three bylaws Monday that “further ensure the success of its student-athletes on the field, in the classroom, and in life.” More casually, the Mountaineers and the other nine institutions will provide its student-athletes these three items beginning Aug. 1, 2015.

  • Athletics aid based on the maximum amount permitted by NCAA bylaws. It is anticipated the maximum amount will increase from Full Grant-in-Aid to Cost of Attendance through the Autonomy legislative process this January. Full Grant-in-Aid consists of tuition and fees, room and board, and required course-related books. Cost of Attendance more broadly reflects the full expense of a college education and includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses reasonably related to attendance at the institution;
  • Multi-year scholarships for no less than the student-athlete’s period of eligibility. This guarantees athletics aid until a student-athlete has exhausted his/her eligibility, provided the student-athlete meet the terms of his/her aid agreement per institutional policy;
  • Athletics aid to former student-athletes per institutional policy. This permits student-athletes who depart the institution prior to graduating the opportunity to return on athletics aid to complete degree requirements.

In June, the Charleston Daily Mail produced a five-part series that previewed what was coming and, in part, what has just arrived.

Part 1: Athletic directors, commissioners provide insight into NCAA reform, what lies ahead
http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20140622/DM03/140629806/1309

Part 2: NCAA reform widens gap between D-I schools, WVU and Marshall
http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20140623/DM03/140629749/1309

Part 3: In-state recruits could be swayed by schools that can do more for the student-athlete
http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20140624/DM03/140629602/1309

Part 4: Mountain East Conference, UC, W.Va. State anticipate effects of NCAA reform
http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20140625/DM03/140629493

Part 5: Athletic directors at WVU, Marshall give their opinions on NCAA reform
http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20140626/DM03/140629368/1309

The Big 12 believes NCAA-wide legislation is coming, which makes this proactive, but it also takes away what’s referenced in stories above as “permissive” participation. It’s mandated now as part of three new bylaws, and that’s standard for subsequent conferences to consider.

Texts From Iowa State Game Day

December 1, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Say, here’s something weird. West Virginia was a 13-point favorite Saturday. For a road game. In conference play. In November.

Remember November?

But the Mountaineers won that November game on the road by 13 points. With a — as opposed to the – backup quarterback.

Pretty quietly, WVU finished 4-1 in road games (and 4-2 away from home [which means 3-3 at home]). Beating Iowa State guaranteed a winning record and secured an above-.500 mark in the Big 12. WVU has won 11 games the past two seasons and done so with four quarterbacks.

Things Saturday probably weren’t supposed to go quite like they did, and for a while it looked like they wouldn’t, but at the end of the game, the Mountaineers had the sort of outcome they probably should have had. It wasn’t easy, and easy shouldn’t be expected by now, but it was one good team handling one bad team for a majority of the game.

These Mountaineers outscored Iowa State 30-3 in the final 42 minutes, guaranteed themselves a winning record regardless of what happens in the bowl game and ended the season above .500 in the Big 12 for the first time since joining the conference three years ago.

“This was all about proving to ourselves that we were able to finish the right way,” said coach Dana Holgorsen. “All we talked about is finishing for the last 11 months based on how we finished last year. We wanted to prove to ourselves the last 11 months were not a waste of time. That was the motivation and the only motivation for us.”

Now WVU waits on the conference championships and the games in the Big 12 to decide its bowl destination, which remains exceedingly likely to be the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 29.

Paper chasing, tell that paper, “Look, I’m right behind ‘ya.” Real Gs text in silence like lasagna. My edits are in [brackets]. And lets slide G&B over to Wednesday this week, if that’s OK with you.

11:42 am:
Michigan/Ohio St.! Alabama/Auburn!! Oregon/Oregon St.!!! WVU/Pi…er…Iowa St. *sigh* I kinda sort miss Eat[Shell] Pitt.

12:01 pm:
Should someone tell Hertzel we can see what he’s favoriting on Twitter?

12:02:
Skyler in the house…get your Breaking Bad quotes & memes ready…

12:04:
Ronald McDonald did a great job designing ISU’s uniforms

12:05:
Noshave Dana is even creepier than usual.

12:06:
Dana s hair is in midgame form and it s only 12:05…

12:07:
Plenty of good seats still available in Ames it seems…

12:09:
Cotton Moya? I hardly even knew her!

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No. 21 WVU 86, College of Charleston 57

November 30, 2014 by Mike Casazza

I haven’t seen WVU live since it stomped Lafayette, which means I’ve missed the past five games, but things are about to get real Thursday when the Mountaineers play host to 4-2 LSU (losses to ODU and Clemson). Thanks to Manassassin Connor Murray for picking up the sword Saturday night.

WVU again went about its business by harassing an overmatched foe with the press and on the boards. The Mountaineers went after another 50-point half to turn a close game at the half into a laugher at the end.

“I didn’t think we had a lot of energy (in the first half), and playing the way we play, you’ve got to have energy,” Huggins said.

“This was a very lackluster first half. Miraculously we turned it up in the second half. In truth, we tried to do some things we hadn’t done with pressure, and when you have one day to prepare it’s hard.”