Each week in this space, KUSports.com online editor Jesse Newell will take a statistical look at one of the 10 teams that has the best chance of taking this year’s NCAA title.
Team: West Virginia
AP/Coaches Ranking: 11th/12th
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 7th
With Bob Huggins at the helm, West Virginia’s strength has to be defense, right? Well, not this season. The Mountaineers rank ninth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, but only 29th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
So what has gone right for WVU offensively? For one, the Mountaineers have dominated the offensive boards, pulling down the rebound on 43.1 percent of its misses, which is good for second nationally. Want to guess who’s first nationally in offensive rebounding percentage? That would be Huggins’ protégé, Frank Martin, who has Kansas State’s offensive rebounding percentage up to 43.5 percent.
West Virginia also is helped by not turning the ball over much, as it averages just 12.4 giveaways per game. The Mountaineers slow things up as well, averaging just 65.3 possessions per game — about three fewer per game than the national average.
Defensively, WVU’s strengths are creating turnovers and defending the three. The Mountaineers force 15.2 turnovers per game — which is quite a few considering the low number of possessions they play — and also have held opponents to 31.1 percent from beyond the arc (national average is 34.1 percent).
As we mentioned last week with Kansas State, in the last six years, no Final Four team has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency. With Huggins as coach, though, one can only assume that WVU’s defense will improve from here on out; the Mountaineers finished 24th in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2007-08 and 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2008-09.
Defensively, West Virginia could use work in two areas: two-point percentage defense and fouls. The Mountaineers’ opponents have made 49 percent of their two-point attempts this season (national average is 47.6 percent). Part of the problem is that the Mountaineers lack a true center that can block shots inside, as no player in the regular rotation is taller than 6-foot-9. West Virginia’s opponents also average 20 free throws per game — again, a high number with the low number of possessions the team plays.
Offensively, WVU has had 964 field-goal attempts, but just 298 free-throw attempts, meaning that the Mountaineers could stand to be a bit more aggressive offensively to increase their foul-shot totals. WVU also has made just 66.8 percent of its free-throw attempts, which ranks 226th in the NCAA.
Da’Sean Butler leads WVU in scoring (15.8 points per game), but Kevin Jones (15.1 ppg) has actually been the better offensive player this year statistically. Jones is eighth nationally in offensive rating (a measure of an individual player’s offensive efficiency) while shooting 65 percent from two-point range and 45.2 percent from three-point range. The 6-foot-8 sophomore also picks up offensive rebounds on 13.8 percent of his team’s misses, which ranks 69th nationally. The senior Butler — a preseason first-team All-Big East selection — has taken 24.5 percent of his team’s shots when he’s in, while Jones has taken just 21.7 percent of his team’s shots when he’s in. To put it another way, Butler has 11 more points than Jones, but Jones has taken 40 fewer field goal attempts and 16 fewer free throw attempts. Preseason first-team all-conference or not, Butler might be wise to pass a bit more of the scoring load back to Jones.
West Virginia is a scary team because its biggest weakness (defense) is also its coach’s specialty. Though the Mountaineers face a brutal Big East slate, expect them to have their defensive issues resolved by March. If that happens, WVU has the potential to take Huggins to the second Final Four of his coaching career.