My son and I typically sit down (or stand) together to watch the Mountaineers play. We could be watching the game on television. Or better yet, we could be in attendance. Either way, it makes for great father son time.
However, on this particular Saturday my son was away at a music gig. He texted me and said "Don't worry, Dad, the Mountaineers are going to win. It'll be like the Iowa State game, in that WVU will score plenty of points. The biggest difference will be that Kansas will keep the game close."
He came home late Saturday night and wanted to watch the game (in my house, Mountaineer games always get dvrd). We turned it on and a lot of things jumped out at me - or were pointed out by my son - the second time around. Here are some lessons learned, or reinforced, from WVU's victory.
1. WVU has discovered how to close out games, particularly at home. Despite Kansas getting within five points twice in the last 1:30, WVU managed to maintain its poise just long enough to pull off the upset. My son asked "Why couldn't WVU do this in Norman?" Insert patented answer that goes something like this: "Well, being at home is more comfortable...the fans are with you...blah, blah, blah."
2. Terry Henderson's defense was absolutely fantastic. The stat sheet will only show two steals on the day, but Henderson brought smart play and toughness to the defensive end. He applied fundamental defensive principles. For example, he always stayed between his man and the basket, giving Kansas players fits when they tried to penetrate with the ball. Henderson's defensive effort was an inspiration to the whole team. WVU held Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Seldon, Jr to just eight points on 3 of 12 shooting and no trips to the free throw line. Tharpe and Seldon average 21 points, 46% from the field and five trips to the free throw line in conference play. Yes, Andrew Wiggins went off, but WVU held Tharpe and Seldon well below their conference averages. "Ballgame."
3. WVU lost...and then regained its composure against Kansas' full court pressure. When Eron Harris took the ball out, bad things happened. When Gary Browne tried to bring the ball up the court, ball things happened. WVU's 14 point lead with four minutes remaining evaporated to a five point lead with only 1:30 on the clock. Bob Huggins timeout calls to make adjustments in the last two minutes of the game paid huge dividends. Gary Browne and Nate Adrian are best suited to in-bounds the ball and they did for the rest of the game. Juwan Staten is best suited to bring the ball up the court. For the most part, he did during the final two minutes. But Huggins saved the best in-bounds play for the most important moment of the game. With 21 seconds left and WVU up only five, WVU brought all five players into the back court. Harris set a pick for Browne, who broke across mid court and caught the in-bounds pass from Adrian. Confidence in bringing the ball up the floor should help WVU against Texas on Thursday night. BTW, hope Holgorsen saw Adrian's in-bounds pass. He led Browne perfectly to make the reception. "What do you think about Adrian for QB?" asks my son. Good question.
4. Kevin Noreen and Gary Browne gave WVU huge minutes today. These two have been roundly criticized the entire season in my family (sometimes for good reason). Gary Browne hit a big three point shot that broke Kansas' momentum. "Don't shoot any more threes" screamed me (earlier when the game was live) and my son (during the replay). Noreen corralled two second half offensive rebounds that led to second chance points. Noreen set numerous picks for Staten to make 15 foot jumpers. Then Noreen did what Noreen does - he took a charge that helped WVU weather the furious Jayhawk comeback. Noreen hit the floor hard and somehow managed to take a gash to the middle of his back. "There he goes again, Dad" says my son. Big smiles break out on both our faces.
5. Remi Dibo disappeared after making two consecutive threes early in the second half. WVU needs Dibo to reappear if they have any chance to win some games in Kansas City.
6. Devin Williams earned his third straight double double. He has quickly become Kevin Love-esque. WVU will need Williams to continue "playing like a man" as both Bob Huggins and my son said after the victory. Starting to wonder if my son read the writeup on WVU's athletic website before watching the game with me...hmm.
7. Kansas is the most talented, gifted, and athletic team in the nation. It's amazing that they have lost eight games this season. I'm always telling both my kids "talent plus effort brings success." They are so tired of hearing it, but it's so true. Kansas got caught sleepwalking thru the first 25 minutes of Saturday's game. When Kansas comes to play - and they did the last 15 minutes - watch out.
8. "Kansas plays thug ball - like you would see at a local YMCA." I didn't really notice this until my son pointed it out. But its so true. Kansas gave the Mountaineers an absolute beating in the paint. Anytime Staten or Harris drove to the basket, Kansas made them pay with shoves to the floor. Amazingly, the refs missed or chose to overlook numerous extracurricular shoves by the Jayhawks after they had already committed the foul. Not one time did the refs even review a play.
9. Bill Self is an excellent coach. Lots of commentary was made in my house regarding Self's decision to call his last remaining timeout with 17:23 to play. Self must have called into question his team's manhood, because the Jayhawks refused to quit and started playing like the nation's #8 ranked team. The last 17 minutes were excruciatingly painful to watch, as Kansas began to play defense. WVU had 64 points at that time and would score only 28 more the rest of the way. In the same time frame, Kansas scored 47 points to nearly pull off the comeback of the year. I could hardly stand to watch, even knowing the final outcome.
10. Bob Huggins is an even better coach. He doesn't have the McDonald's All-American team at his disposal, but Huggins coaches young men into great basketball players. Juwan Staten is another example of how Huggins' mentorship pays off. Staten lit up Kansas for 24 points, 9 assists and five rebounds. "Think Staten will leave for the draft, Dad?" That's the 2015 Final Four question. "I don't think so. Staten could use another year to improve his free throw shooting, field goal range and half-court defense." Hope I'm right about that answer so that, together, Huggins and Staten lead this team to college basketball's promised land.
As Mountaineer fans stormed the court, my son reminded me of Bob Huggins' prediction after the game in Lawrence. My son then repeated what he had said in his text before the game.
"I told you, Dad."
I'll be asking for another prediction prior to Thursday night's game against Texas.