Clock Strategy Burns WVU Against Kansas
Put aside, if you will, the 35-2 Grand Canyon-sized gulf in three throw attempts. (It was really 35-3, as Daxter Miles’ only attempt officially never happened due to his lane violation, but that’s like a late touchdown in a 65-7 romp.) It’s difficult, but it was only part of the story as West Virginia again allowed a double-digit lead to slip away against Kansas. While the officiating of such lights as Jamie Luckie and Keith Kimble can always be called into question, WVU played well enough to overcome it and win, had it not turned to a questionable strategic decision in the last nine minutes of the game.
With a 10-point lead and 8:50 to play, West Virginia chose to spread the floor and burn clock on eight of its final 16 possessions. On six of those eight, WVU did not even start the action of a play until fewer than ten seconds remained on the shot clock, and on the other two it had ticked down to 11 and 12. The Mountaineers ran a simple high ball screen for either Jevon Carter (mostly) or Beetle Bolden (once) and scored just five points on a Carter layup and a Daxter Miles contested three.
There can certainly be reasons for spreading the floor and running the clock, as West Virginia chose to do. If there’s a personnel advantage, either at point guard or with the screener (which was almost exclusively Sagaba Konate or Logan Routt), it’s an understandable tactical decision. If WVU were tired, or in horrendous foul trouble, it would also bear reasoning. However, none of those were the case. West Virginia was utterly unable to pass the ball to its post players in scoring position, as was evidenced by the meager total of 16 points it scored in the paint, so that took away most of the options for delivering the ball on a screen and roll. That left Carter to try to create something very late in the shot clock, with no chance for a reset if anything went wrong.
Even if the spread was the best choice, why wait until ten seconds or fewer remained to start the action? Certainly, patience was called for in the final segments of the game, but WVU had built a ten-point lead over the first 31 minutes by running offense, not by sitting back and bleeding possessions until only a few ticks remained on the shot clock. The Mountaineers shot almost 49% in the first half by getting into its offense, and turned a halftime tie into that 10-point advantage over the first 11 minutes of the second half with the former tactic.
There’s also another fallout item from this decision. Once Kansas rallied to take the lead, WVU needed to get back to attacking and running its offense. On its last two meaningful possessions, where it trailed by two and four points, respectively, the offense was bogged down. West missed a three with just two seconds remaining on the shot clock on the former, and WVU took 11 seconds to get a shot away on the latter, when it got the ball with just 24 seconds left. It can be very difficult to “flip the switch” and go from passive to attacking, and that may have hurt the Mountaineers down the stretch.
Also abetting this tactical error was a painful display of bad decisions by the Mountaineers over the same stretch. In the last nine minutes, Miles twice tried passes off what started out as jumpers, only to see a pair of turnovers result. His unselfishness in those situations can’t be criticized, but he was open in both instances, and neither of his targets were likely to do anything with the ball even if they saw it or caught it. Lamont West executed a two-hand push that is an automatic foul call in the middle of the court (even if Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike acted as if he had been hit with a chair). Miles ran into the lane to chase a free throw that he knew was off target, either forgetting or ignoring the rule about the ball hitting the rim before the shooter can cross the line. Sagaba Konate chose to try to flop on defense in the post against Azubuike rather than go up for a block, and he also escaped what would have been a correct call for basket interference when he grabbed the rim on a Jevon Carter layup. West and Miles apparently miscommunicated in transition on defense late in the game, allowing Malik Newman a wide-open three that tied the game at 66.
At this point in the season, mistakes like those, at least in terms of volume, shouldn’t be happening, and it’s not the first time in the late going that the Mountaineers have seen a flurry of them crop up to ruin late possessions and give opponents scoring chances. Add in the embarrassing inability of WVU to execute what should be basic entry passes, and there were certainly enough errors that didn’t include officiating to give WVU a loss.
That said, this isn’t offered as an excuse or absolution of the “job” that John Higgins, James Luckie and Keith Kimble did on Saturday evening. West Virginia, forced to run the majority of its offense outside, and with aggressive defense, is going to rack up more fouls than its opponents. However, the gap in foul calls (26-14) and the overt whistle-swallowing on late shots by Konate and Miles were total whiffs, and could have given WVU a chance to get back into the game. It was no worse, though, than what West Virginia has suffered through in several other games this year, and to say that was the total reason for the loss is to ignore some of the other issues that were self-inflicted.