Turnovers, ‘Jacks’ Walkup send Mountaineers home
Stephen F. Austin, Middle Tennessee State, Yale, and Arkansas-Little Rock were this year’s NCAA dandies as they upset their way into the second round.
Those teams had three or four days to prepare for their first-round opponents. None of them had any fear or trepidation when seeing the likes of West Virginia, Michigan State, Purdue or Baylor.
Then came the second round. None of the four bracket busters faced a team that was more dangerous than their first-round opponents.
But each had only one day to prepare for those second games. One day. None of them were at home where they could go through a normal, year-long routine and practice where they wanted and how long they wanted.
All of them were stationed in hotels and adjusting to schedules that had to account for meals in restaurants, care for any injuries incurred in the opening round and — at least in the case of Yale — taking care of school work and assignments they were missing by playing an extended schedule.
Where were they going to practice? At the site of the tournament, where court times would be set by the NCAA and the entire length of a practice would be covered by local television and other media types? Little or nothing could be accomplished. Any new and untried defenses, offensive adjustments or various lineup changes would be done on a superficial basis at best.
One day of rest was also too little for players dealing with unusual circumstances, some finishing their games near midnight and in need of food because they hadn’t eaten since mid-afternoon.
All four of the newly-minted fan favorites lost in the second round.
As for West Virginia, a team that had often won because it was not tired at the close of its pressure-driven games, it lost partially because Stephen F. Austin was the fresher team at the end of its “upset” win.
Mountaineer pressure defense was mostly ineffective, especially in the break-away second half where West Virginia was outscored by 11 points.
Draining the stamina of a number of the Mountaineers was Thomas Walkup, the do-everything scorer, ball handler, rebounder, spokesman and on-floor leader of the confident Lumberjacks.
Walkup seemed almost invincible at times — freely scoring, scooping up loose balls, grabbing rebounds and dribbling his way to wherever his competitive heart desired.
Throughout, it was West Virginia with the most damaging turnovers. And true to its form from its other 34 games, the Mountaineers couldn’t overcome whatever they lacked with pinpoint accuracy on the fewer shots they had because of the stream of turnovers.
As the tournament defeat sinks in, what does the future hold in the highly competitive Big 12 Conference?
Only Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton were seniors. Paige was the team’s leading scorer, albeit at 13.9 points a game. Holton was a very useful defender and rebounder.
The starting lineup that saw the Lumberjacks was comprised of Daxter Miles, Jr., Jevon Carter, Devin Williams, Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian . . . and all were underclassmen.
Tarik Phillip, Elijah Macon and Teyvon Myers are also juniors and a sophomore.
Some of the others on scholarship but not playing this season are freshman Logan Routt, James Bolden and Lamont West. Little-used Brandon Watkins has remaining eligibility. Will any of those four players go elsewhere before next season? Will any of those who actually played this season go elsewhere?
The most obvious need the Mountaineers have is at point guard. They didn’t have a polished, fundamentally-sound, decision-making point guard this season.
Of the four recruits that have been signed, two are point guards. But both are from West Virginia high schools. The quality players from the past the Mountaineers have gleaned from West Virginia high schools just don’t exist. There are none for many a moon.
The two point guards are Chase Harler (6-foot-3, 170) from Wheeling Central Catholic and Brandon Knapper (6-foot, 160) from South Charleston. Is a freshman from a West Virginia high school going to be an asset when playing a Big 12 schedule next season?
The other two recruits are Maciej Bender from tiny Grundy, Virginia and Sagaba Konate from Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Bender is 6-foot-10, 220 and played at Mountain Mission High School. Konate is 6-foot-8, 220 and played on a state championship team.
Should any of the others on scholarship leave this summer then their scholarships would become available to be used for other recruits.
Point guard. A vital need for improved overall shooting accuracy. Winning when the pressure defense has little effect on an opponent. Those are the most obvious needs if the Mountaineers aren’t to be caught in the web of another little-known, little-seen team with three or four days to prepare for them.