A short take
I’m on the road, and with about an hour left before the tip off of Big Monday’s basketball battle between West Virginia and Pitt, this will be a short column.
Last week this space contained a glowing account of the progress of the young WVU basketball team. So, right on queue, the Mountaineers went out last Wednesday and were soundly trounced by Big East cellar dweller St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. The final score was 78-72 and the performance was probably the worst of the season.
St. John’s played a zone defense that had the Mountaineers totally confused and looking like a middle school team at times. West Virginia actually entered the game as an eight-point favorite, but their play was a cold slap in the face to those of us that had bought into the nice progress this team was making.
The worst thing about losing the way West Virginia did in New York City was that their next game was three days later against fourth ranked Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. If a team can’t handle a zone by St. John’s, what chance would they have against one of the premier zone teams in the country?
I’m sure virtually all of you know what happened at Syracuse last Saturday. West Virginia gave great effort in a controversial 63-61 loss. The game was controversial because with nine seconds left in the game Deniz Kilicli had a put back shot pinned against the backboard by a Syracuse player. It was an obvious goaltending violation to everyone that saw the play except the three guys in the striped shirts.
WVU actually came up with the loose ball on the play and had possession with 6.1 seconds to go. Kevin Jones got off an off balance three point shot at the buzzer that clanked off the rim. Game over!
Many fans feel the Big East has an agenda against the Mountaineers. I don’t subscribe to that theory in general, but in the games at Connecticut and now Syracuse both had a call, or a no call, in the final seconds that destroyed West Virginia’s chances to win the game. We are not talking about close calls here either.
As blatant as missing the goaltending call was, had it been called, the game would have been tied with Syracuse having nearly nine seconds to go for a game winner. So it is fair to say the call cost WVU a chance to get the game to overtime, it is not as accurate to say the call cost WVU a win.
That was not a popular opinion Saturday night, but when looking at the Syracuse game we see that WVU out rebounded the Orange by 21. That is the kind of effort that was missing at St. John’s. What was still evident was WVU’s struggles against the zone as the Mountaineers turned the ball over 17 times. Then there were an abundance of missed shots inside the Syracuse zone that WVU couldn’t convert. In may ways it is fair to say WVU should have been in control of the game at the end and not had to accept the fate the officials gave them.
As the tip with Pitt approaches, the game looks more and more like a must win for the Mountaineers. Pitt uncharacteristically began conference play with seven straight loses, but have now won two in a row. A home loss to the Panthers will make that NCAA bid that looked so promising a week ago, a much more challenging proposition.