Delving Deeper Into “Open Shots” Explains WVU Loss
BOSTON — For much of the season, West Virginia’s coaching staff has bemoaned missed shots as the primary reason for Mountaineer defeats. That’s true as far as it goes, but a little more explanation helps show how WVU was ultimately bounced from the NCAA Tournament after another very good advancement to the Sweet 16.
“We had the opportunity to make shots. When you are in the NCAA Tournament, you have to make open shots. They did and we didn’t,” assistant coach Larry Harrison said after the game.
True, so far as it goes. But what additional factors go in to that?
First, there’s the obvious: Villanova, like Kansas, has more good perimeter shooters than the Mountaineers. That’s not to knock WVU’s talent on the perimeter. WVU has things it does far better than many other teams. It’s just that shooting from deep, across the board, isn’t among them.
On this year’s squad, Beetle Bolden, Daxter Miles, Jevon Carter and Lamont West were all solid to good 3-point shooters — at times. The problem was that rarely were all four in sync together on a given night. Against the Wildcats, only Miles had more than one three, and the Mountaineers wound up making just 25% (7-28) of their attempts. Compare that to Nova, which had four players make multiple threes, including three with at least three. The Cats were 13-24 from distance (58.2%), earning an 18-point advantage over the Mountaineers. If West Virginia makes just three more 3-pointers, it’s a much different game down the stretch.
“They did a good job of penetrating and pitching and finding their open guys,” Harrison detailed. “[Omari] Spellman shot the ball probably better than he has all year.”
Again true. But how did it happen, and how did Spellman and fellow big man Eric Paschall get open enough to crush the Mountaineers with six threes in ten attempts?
Much of it was due to the Wildcats ability to get the ball upcourt quickly in transition, and at times against West Virginia’s press. Spellman and Paschall joined with guards on spreading the floor to the 3-point line, leaving Sagabe Konate with a pick-your-poison decision. He could leave to cover the big, but that would leave the rim open, and smaller West Virginia defenders trying to keep Jalen Brunson from driving to the hoop. Staying in left Spellman or Paschall uncovered, and with them making 60% of their attempts, there just wasn’t much left that WVU could try. Had WVU’s bigs covered at the line indiscriminately, there could have been a big parade of lay-ups resulting behind them.
As with WVU’s missed shots, the margin for error here is a small one. If Spellman makes two threes instead of four, and Paschall one less, the score gap narrows considerably. Hoping for that, however, might have been wishful thinking at best, as Spellman made 44.6% of his threes this year.
Putting the two factors together — WVU misses and Villanova makes — results in the most clear picture. In addition to the factors described above, Villanova got a number of quick shots in transition, often resulting from long rebounds or missed West Virginia tip attempts. If four or five of those misses, many of which came at point blank range, go in for WVU, the Nova fast break threat is lessened. But in the perfect storm that resulted, the Wildcats took advantage.
Also of import were several critical misses in close for the Mountaineers, with most of those coming in the second half. Lay-ups, a couple of tip attempts and a handful of shots in the lane simply wouldn’t fall — a bugaboo that plagued West Virginia throughout the season.
“We had to capitalize on our end, and we didn’t make open shots,” Harrison reiterated. “We didn’t get many easy baskets. It’s been like that the majority of the year. You have to get some easy ones, and we didn’t get any of those.”