Deeper Rotation, Shorter Results For WVU
With the addition of Esa Ahmad, West Virginia’s rotation got deeper, and more versatile, as the Mountaineers tipped off against Texas Tech in a battle of Top Ten teams. He made his presence immediately known, coming off the bench early and playing far more than most anticipated, winding up with 18 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes of action. He handled and passed the ball well, defended well and kept rebound chances alive. Given those numbers, most might have predicted a win for WVU, even in the snakepit that awaited in Lubbock.
Funny thing, though, is that it didn’t work out that while. While Jevon Carter played an excellent game, the rest of the Mountaineers fell short of their usual contributions. Eleven players saw the court in the first half, but many had next to no impact, while others made, or attempted to make, plays that were out of their skill sets.
Through WVU’s 15-game winning streak, additions from players up and down the rotation have been key. It wasn’t always been the same players, and it wasn’t all of them in every game. There were usually, though, four or five in every contest that stood out, or had significant plays at critical moments that spurred the team to victory. Against Texas Tech, that number dropped dramatically.
An examination of the box score makes it unnecessary to point out who played little, who missed shots, and who didn’t perform to their usual standards. The deeper examination, though, is what caused that to occur? Was it, as head coach Bob Huggins said, a lack of preparation and an inflated sense of self worth? Was it an upset of the chemistry and rotation that had developed over the previous month? Or just a matter of a very good team coming up just a bit short against another very good team on its home court?
The first is certainly an item to be taken into account, as Matt Keller covered in his post-game story. The second? Maybe a bit, but there’s no way to make a case for shortening West Virginia’s rotation at this point, based on the results of just one game. WVU did, at times look uncomfortable on offense, especially when it went to a bigger lineup with Ahmad at the two guard and Carter as the only ballhandler. That was as much in response to foul trouble as anything, and while it didn’t work on either end, it’s still an option that WVU can work on and perhaps deploy in future games.
There was also debate as to how players, faced with a shortening of minutes with Ahmad’s return, might react. Some might be quick to lump Teddy Allen’s benching into that category, but that’s an overreach at this point. If it continues, sure, it’s an issue that will have to be addressed more forcefully, but there’s nothing to point to that as a long-term issue yet.
Also, Ahmad’s return had nothing to do with the fact that several Mountaineers committed silly fouls that messed up the rotation in the first place, or that kept Texas Tech in the game with 24 made free throws. It had nothing to do with the fact that Sagaba Konate suddenly thought he should launch contested jumpers or put the ball on the floor against multiple defenders. It didn’t make the defense collapse in the latter part of the game, when Tech made 12 of its last 14 shot attempts from the field. Those are all things the Mountaineers didn’t do, or at least limited, during its winning streak. They were all glaring deficiencies on Saturday.
The good news — and this should be the overarching message here — is that this isn’t a signal of impending disaster. West Virginia knows what it has to do to win. It has done so 15 times this year. It doesn’t have to get major upticks in performance from players who have never had success. Up and down the lineup, those in the rotation have played well more often than not. They had a setback against a very good team, and at this point in the season there’s nothing more to read into it than that. West Virginia’s deeper rotation will pay dividends from this point going forward, provided that each player keeps to his role and doesn’t try to do things that he can’t. That too, is a Huggins truism, and it’s one to watch as the Mountaineers quickly return to the court on Monday night.