When discussing and working on aspects of improving the shooting of the basketball, items such as the arc of the shot, getting the ball over the front of the rim and position of the hand and wrist on the release are just some of the many items that come into play. For WVU head coach Bob Huggins, though, another aspect of the game also contributes heavily to shooting the ball well.
“I think to a large degree we will shoot the ball much much better when we pass it better,” said WVU’s veteran head coach, who isn’t limited to just the improvement of mechanics as a path to making the ball go in the hoop. “Our offense, instead of looking like a bunch of guys running into each other, will look like a fluid offense once we pass the basketball. If you think back, everybody has been able to pass the ball here. They’ve all learned to pass the basketball, and that’s key.”
While WVU’s offense hasn’t been as bad as Huggins described, it has not produced quite at the level he expected coming in to the season. The Mountaineers are making only 45% of their field goals (32% from three), and are being outshot by their opponents in both categories.
At least some of that stems from the fact that the timing and accuracy of West Virginia’s passes have been inconsistent at best. Passes have led shooters that are open into covered areas, and even those that reach their intended recipients have put them out of shape to catch and shoot smoothly.
“People don’t think about that as much as what they need to, but the key to shooting, and to offense, is to be able to have the ball in a position where you can catch it,” said Huggins, who has seen just 66 assists from his team in its first five games. “It’s not that we don’t have guys open. We don’t get the ball to them. Or we get it too late to them and they’re under the backboard, or get it too early to them and they have to bounce it.”
At least WVU is trying to move the ball on the perimeter. Attempts to get the ball inside have been few and far between, in part because none of the Mountaineers’ forwards have any proven ability to score with their backs to the basket. Huggins also sees passing miscues on some of those limited attempts, and doesn’t want his team to give up on trying to develop some inside scoring.
“When you throw it down around guys’ ankles, it’s hard for them to scoop it up and finish around the rim,” he noted, detailing a problem that is pandemic across much of the college landscape. “You have to throw the ball away from the defense, and we don’t do that.
“A pass (inside) ought to be from the waist up. If you throw it below their waist they probably aren’t going to score. Who wants to turn their hands over and kneel down like a catcher and then jump up and shoot one? No one is very good at that. It needs to be in a position where you can catch and finish. If you never pass the ball to someone his guy is going to stand in the lane. Why wouldn’t he?”
As might be expected, veteran guards Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman lead the Mountaineers with assists (18 and 13, respectively), but in third place is forward Gabe Osabuohien (10). He understands angles and positioning inside, and being able to deliver the ball there while also finding the proper player to kick the ball to or move it on the perimeter are two more of his many underappreciated and unnoticed strengths.
“We’ve always tried to get our bigs to pass the ball too – dribble handoffs, or something so they are involved in the offense,” Huggins observed.
While that won’t be a major part of WVU’s game this year, it can be a complementary one, as it was late in the Clemson game when Osabuohien drove into the lane, drew a help defender, and dumped the ball to Jalen Bridges for an open lay-up to cut the Tigers’ lead to two. Get a couple of those per game, and offensive vistas continue to open up.
With so many players from so many different programs, which emphasize different skills, it’s not surprising that some of the disappearing fundamentals of the game aren’t present as they all try to assimilate the Mountaineer way of playing the game. West Virginia, with its motion offense, needs to have accurate and on-time passing, and also has to get those dishes to its perimeter shooters so they can catch and shoot without delay. Achieve that, and it can compete with most any team on its schedule.