Coming Up Empty
West Virginia hasn’t been able to fill up the bucket on many nights on the basketball court this year, but that’s merely been the end result – an ugly one at that – for a number of Mountaineer offensive possessions. Also contributing to the low scoring outputs have been a pair of scourges – bad passes and empty possessions – that have caused WVU’s scoring average drop from 75.5 points per game following the Youngstown State contest to 70.1 after the Texas loss.
That difference – 5.4 points – may not sound like a lot, but as WVU has usually managed to stay close in many in its recent defeats, putting a few more of those markers on the board may have made those games play out differently down the stretch. Would it have changed any of those losses to wins? Maybe not, but there would at least have been a chance.
That’s simply addressing WVU’s shooting and scoring, though. The two items in focus today may be even more critical, because they prevent, or severely lessen, West Virginia’s chances of even getting a shot away.
In the Texas game, the Mountaineers threw, by my count, 13 bad passes. Some of those resulted in outright turnovers, while others, which still resulted in WVU keeping possession, took players out of position or killed chances at a good shot.
For example, at one point Derek Culver had a defender pinned on his right side in the post, but the pass came in on the same side. Culver won the battle for the ball, but had his positioning totally negated, leaving him with no option but to pass the ball back out. That’s a bad pass. In another, the Mountaineers had a player open on the wing for a 3-point attempt, but the pass forced him to move to catch it, and by the time he reset, Texas had closed out defensively. Those errors don’t show up in the box score, but they might as well be shots that clanked off the rim.
Bad passes also cause disruption to what little offensive rhythm the Mountaineers can generate. Catching a bad one typically forces a reset, and WVU at the end of the shot clock is a desperate situation. Long distance heaves or off-balance throws are often the result, and those have even less chance of finding the net.
A subset of the bad pass collection is WVU’s lobs to the rim. I’d be willing to bet that West Virginia’s successful completion rate of such passes that resulted in a score is about 10 percent – and that might be generous. A total ban on these passes might not be a bad idea at this point, as no Mountaineer has shown the ability to deliver this sort of pass accurately.
The second item is far worse – empty possessions. Again by my running count, WVU had 12 possessions in which it never even managed to get off a shot against the Longhorns. That doesn’t even include sets where the Mountaineers missed a shot, rebounded it and then threw it away; and there were several of those situations too.
Of course, there are always going to be empty possessions. For West Virginia, though, their importance is magnified, because it needs every single shot it can get. Say WVU limits the empty possessions to six against Texas. Shooting at the rate it did against the Longhorns, that’s roughly five more points. And remember, we aren’t counting the giveaways that occurred after regaining possession following a missed shot. Just as with the bad passes, these are points that would make a key difference down the stretch.
How much of the bad passing is from lack of understanding of the game, or simple physical errors resulting in off-target throws, is difficult to analyze. An easier conclusion, though, is that these sorts of mistakes are just as crushing to a team that is desperately searching for a way to move the numbers on the scoreboard.