Impressions: West Virginia and Cincinnati

Written February 1st, 2011 by Jay

The Big East has a lot of ranked teams this year, to say the least, and some believe that the conference will have as many as 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament come March.  While the debate will rage on about the true strength of the Big East, it is fairly certain that the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Cincinnati Bearcats will be two of the teams from the conference on the periphery of the conversation at the end of the season, trying to make their case that they are worthy of being included in the Big Dance.  This pair of unranked teams faced each other over the past weekend, hoping to improve their stock and take a step forward in the conference standings among their more formidable brethren.

It was a packed house at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, as the fans turned out to welcome back Bob Huggins one more time.  Huggy hasn’t changed too much since his time in the Nasty Natty by all appearances, but the Bearcat program he left behind has certainly experienced a decline in stature.  The Bearcats have had some decent squads and some decent players come through since Huggins left in 2005, but have not made a trip to the NCAA Tournament since their former coach moved on (or more accurately, was moved on).

This year’s Cincinnati team has shown some promise of finally getting back to the postseason showcase, but a strong early season record is starting to look a bit misleading in the light of recent losses.  Saturday’s contest ultimately resulted in another loss for the Bearcats, only their fourth on the season, but likely a preview of things to come as Big East play rolls along.  Saturday’s final was a 66-55 tally in favor of WVU, a score that to some extent reflects the grind-it-out, ugly style that Huggins seems to have perfected.Of these two teams, West Virginia definitely has the better prospects for making some noise in the conference and earning themselves a tournament bid.  They’ve already shown an ability to win some big games, with victories over both Purdue and Georgetown.  Even more significant is the fact that in their six losses to date, the average margin of defeat has been just over six points, with the most lop-sided loss being a 10-point deficit to St. John’s.  The Mountaineers keep it close, and it gives them a chance in every game.  They’ll need to scrape for every point they can get, as 7 of their last 10 games come against the top 7 teams in the conference (not including the Mountaineers themselves), all of which are ranked opponents.

Joe Mazzulla is a scrappy senior point for WVU who remembers the Mountaineers past tournament success, but he'll be hard-pressed to lead the team to similar heights this year

Unlike Cincinnati, West Virginia is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made it to the Final Four last year before losing to eventual champion Duke.  However, this team is a far cry from last year’s squad.  They lost senior leader De’Sean Butler as well as talented sophomore Devin Ebanks, and with leading scorer Casey Mitchell sidelined due to an indefinite suspension for violating team rules, West Virginia has no primary scoring option on which to rely.  The team is a tough draw, but they aren’t going to shoot you out of the gym.  Instead, they piece together a motley assortment of players into a disjointed but reasonably effective unit.  They’re not cohesive, but they are gritty.  They won’t blow you out, but they may punch you in the mouth.  In other words, if you take them lightly, don’t be surprised to find yourself on the losing end as the final seconds tick away.

Forward Kevin Jones puts up solid numbers, but he isn't the same go-to guy that West Virginia has had in years past

The Buckeyes can certainly handle West Virginia.  We have superior scoring, superior size in the paint, superior athleticism, and most importantly, a team that seems to have gelled remarkably well this season, enabling us to play a variety of styles.  Against West Virginia, the key for Ohio State would be to pound the ball inside and take advantage of fast break opportunities whenever possible.  While West Virginia is a decent club, they did demonstrate a number of mistakes and sloppy plays against UC (see previous note about lack of cohesiveness), and Ohio State should be able to take advantage consistently if we push the pace.

If West Virginia is a bit disjointed in their style, then Cincinnati is truly the epitome of a “roll out the ball and play” squad.  There is little attempt made to run an offense when the Bearcats have the ball, and players frequently took it one-on-one for off-balance leaners in the lane during the game on Saturday.  Cincy was actually ranked at one point this season, but a look at their pre-conference schedule shows that perhaps their most significant victory came against cross-town rival Xavier.  Cincinnati has talent, but no discipline.  They have size, but it doesn’t have an impact beyond just clogging the lane and grabbing a few boards.

Yancy Gates is a monster, and could dominate a game if only the 'Cats got him the ball consistently

The Bearcats are more well-equipped to challenge the Buckeyes, especially with 6’9, 260-pound junior Yancy Gates to match against Jared Sullinger.  UC also has the athleticism to play tight man-to-man for stretches, and can knock down the three when left open, but they gave no indication of being able to sustain a solid performance for 40 straight minutes.  While recognizing that I would be a basketball mo-ron compared to these DI players, I feel comfortable saying that the Buckeye players have a much higher basketball IQ than the Cincy team.  With Ohio State, there is much more sense of timing and spacing, when to take the shot and when to pull it back and reset.

You could feel the frustration of many of the fans at Fifth Third Arena as they watched their team falter at home, and I almost ended up feeling bad for them.  Cincinnati’s home court has the potential to be a deafening, utterly explosive place to play, and it was incredible to think what it must have been like when Huggins was coaching there with top-ranked teams.  The arena is almost like an over-sized high school gym, with bleacher seats and relatively basic amenities.  Rather than coming out of tunnels onto the court, the teams come out of simple doors on each end of the floor when they leave their locker rooms.  The fans are genuinely rowdy, and the gym quickly gets warm from the commotion, unlike the drafty, multi-level mega-palaces at other schools that shall not be mentioned by name at the moment.

All in all, the game was a fairly sloppy, mistake-heavy affair.  While it is understood that WVU and UC don’t represent the cream of the Big East crop, as a sampling from the conference they did not strike fear into the the heart of a Big Ten fan who may be looking ahead to a matchup between another Big East squad and the Buckeyes come tournament time.

13 Comments

  1. JDMNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 9:17 am

    West Virginia beat OSU last year and the year before that. That’s WVU 2 OSU 0. OR, Ohio State was winless versus West Virginia in both 2009 and 2010. Basically, WVU beat Ohio St. the past 2 years. Enough said and as far as this year, I’d take the Mountaineers over osu. The Big East is brutal and nothing like the Big 10/11. The Big 10 isn’t horrible but it’s no BIG EAST. WVU beat up on Purdue pretty bad a few weeks back and I’d take WVU over OSU on a neutral floor (maybe the NCAA). OSU can beat up on Iowa, Penn State, Michigan (all mid level teams) but come tournament time and against BIG EAST teams, OSU may be less than what they are playing a big 10 team.

    [Reply]

    JimNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Congratulations on taking Big East basketball discussion to the level of SEC football. Your points are all terrible (the last two seasons have less than nothing to do with this season) and some aren’t even factual.

    Ohio State blew out Purdue but barely squeaked past Iowa, Penn State, and Michigan. So, uh, next time you might want to factor that into your argument, it would make it stronger and possibly even give the impression that you know what you are talking about.

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    AndrewNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 10:23 am

    the one common denominator — Purdue, WVU barely beat them, whereas OSU totally crushed them, up by 30 at one point and won by 23 in the end. anyway you slice it, WVU is a step below OSU in class.

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    JimNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 10:28 am

    To be fair, I have to rip you too.

    Common opponents are a terrible way to compare teams. The transitive property does not work in sports.

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    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Wait, the transitive property doesn’t work in these situations?

    Why did I waste all that time learning it then? Crap.

    Does it work for food?

    [Reply]

    KenNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Transitive fats don’t work worth a darn, avoid them.

    [Reply]

  2. smeerNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 10:10 am

    your article was just as homerish. did you do any homework besides watch that one game? WVU’s leading scorer is indefinitely suspended. Casey Mitchell 16 ppg – junior college player of the year. he will be back – it’s his senior year – he’ll do what Huggs asks.

    this is a team that is just now gelling under difficult circumstances (they practiced on their own in Louisville on their off day – walking a mile to Yum arena) and as players get a chance to work together, they will get better. there’s a month left for this team to improve. Hugg’s teams always get better and the process is pretty consistent. work on D and rebounding (it keeps you in games) before smoothing out the O.

    As for the Big East – nobody has a better ooc record against top 25 competition. That’s not SEC fantasy. That’s reality.

    There’s a lot of parity this year in college basketball and who knows how things will shake out, but I hope Motta scouts teams like you do.

    [Reply]

    JimNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Heaven forbid that an Ohio State website write an article that is ‘homerish’ to the Buckeyes. I can’t speak directly to how much research went into this because I didn’t write it, but since it is Jay’s impressions from the game, I would imagine he is mostly making observations from what he saw in this one game.

    As to my comment, I didn’t say the Big East was the SEC on the court, I said that SDM was using SEC football talking points… results from past games, strength of schedule, common opponents and so on.

    You did a much better job providing insight into West Virginia basketball so thank you for that.

    [Reply]

    JayNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Jim is correct in saying that the purpose of this article is to provide impressions from one game, not to do an exhaustive study of the teams. Please see the comments from a previous article about Georgetown-Memphis for the original response to this complaint:

    http://www.thebuckeyebattlecry.com/?p=11444

    Also, if the second sentence in your comments was meant to express indignation about a failure to acknowledge Mitchell, please note that the article clearly states the following: “leading scorer Casey Mitchell sidelined”

    WVU certainly still has a month to improve. And so does Ohio State. There are a lot of good teams in the Big East this year, but the Buckeyes would still fare well against the conference with our team this year.

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    Lurking_MichaelNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    “there’s a month left for this team to improve”

    Oh man, if only Ohio State had a month left to improve. Must be nice to have more games and practices before the tournament.

    “I hope Motta scouts teams like you do”

    Um…who is Motta?

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    KenNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    L-M, good poinr. Evidently a Huggins-led squad will improve in the next month while a Motta-led squad may not. However, a Matta-led squad may fine tune some stuff, I guess we’ll have to wait & see.

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    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Um…who is Motta?

    I don’t know… what’s amotta with you?

    [Reply]

  3. J-birdNo Gravatar
    February 1st, 2011 at 10:21 am

    JDM – be happy WVU doesnt play tOSU this year.
    OSU would easily wax them by 20.

    [Reply]

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