Beilein working magic
West Virginia University basketball coach John Beilein would modestly disagree, but his coaching method is working again. Strapped with the loss of five of his top six players from last year, this year's version of Mountaineer basketball was picked to finish as low as last in the Big East this year.
Even many of the hometown fans were conceding that a .500 season, a spot in the Big East Tournament and a bid to the NIT would be a successful campaign.
Well, after 20 games the Mountaineers are 16-4 and their expectations have expanded. WVU has surprised many by running out to a 16-4 record including a 5-3 mark in the Big East. With nine regular season games remaining the Mountaineers would seem to have surpassed those not so lofty goals set for them by others.
A winning record is assured. A spot in the NIT would now be a disappointment since an invite to the big dance is dangling in front of them. Not finishing in the top 12 of the Big East at this point could only be caused by a monumental collapse.
All that being said, there is still much more to be determined about this team. They have no conference road wins despite having opportunities at Notre Dame and Cincinnati to get wins. The Mountaineers will play at Rutgers this Wednesday and at Seton Hall on Saturday. Those two games could determine very much about the post season destiny of WVU.
It's not that Rutgers and Seton Hall are patsies, but if WVU wants to be in the top half of the the Big East, and make it to the NCAA Tournament in March, the Mountaineers will need at least a split.
West Virginia returns home next Wednesday for a two game home stand against a pair of Top 10 teams with Pitt visiting on Wednesday followed by a visit from UCLA on Saturday. Whatever is left of the Mountaineers after those two games will have to go to Georgetown on Monday.
Twenty games into this season a couple things are becoming clear. Holdover starter Frank Young is doing a splendid job as a team leader. Coach Beilein has said that Young was pretty much the team leader last season which says a lot about Young, who is averaging 14.5 points per game including 66 of 157 from beyond the arc, or 42 per cent.
Sophomore Joe Alexander is a pleasant surprise. Alexander's athleticism has been discussed since last year when, as a freshman, he played just 38 minutes. While it is obvious Alexander is still learning what Beilein wants on offense and defense, it is just as obvious that Alexander is a huge talent who continues to improve. Alexander is still basically very early in his basketball development since he spent much of his youth in China and has only been playing organized basketball for four years.
Then there is Beilein who was able to transform his last two teams with basically average talent and athleticism into Elite Eight and Sweet 16 teams respectively. Now his cast of players seem to have more talent and athleticism. The question now is how will Beilein manage that talent when those talented players want more shots.
So far that hasn't been a problem and Beilein's tutelage is paying great dividends with this team. Looks like things will be interesting for the next few years at the Coliseum.