Shorthanded WVU faces another tough obstacle in Virginia’s pack-line defense

MORGANTOWN — Imagine for a moment a pile of 1,000 cement bricks that need to be moved to another area just 25 feet away.

The first 50 come easily, maybe even the first 100 or 200.

Eventually, though, moving those blocks take a toll. The pile, even though it’s getting smaller, somehow seems to become a bigger obstacle as the minutes slowly turn into hours.

The WVU men’s basketball team got a dose of that feeling on Monday, or as head coach Josh Eilert said about his team’s 70-58 loss against SMU, “They wore us down.”

WVU STATS

For 40 minutes, WVU had to deal with the Mustangs’ constant full-court man-to-man pressure.

Just getting the ball inbounds generally required setting one or two screens just to get a player open to take in the pass.

At first, it wasn’t that difficult, but those cement blocks can take a toll on even the young and strong college athlete.

The Mountaineers are basically down to a six-man roster with backup guard Jeremiah Bembry out with an injury.

Eilert played backup forward Pat Suemnick just eight minutes, saying afterward he just couldn’t find more of an opportunity to get Suemnick into the game.

“Really proud of our guys. They competed and competed,” Eilert said. “There’s not a lot you can do when the other team is playing 10 or 11 guys and we’re playing the minutes we’re playing.”

Once the second half began, the Mountaineers (2-2) had seemingly run into a cement wall. Their once 12-point cushion in the opening seconds of the second half had been depleted just six minutes into the half.

Moving on to Wednesday’s consolation game, WVU will face its first Top 25-ranked opponent in No. 24 Virginia (4-1), which presents its own challenges, but not exactly what the Mountaineers saw in SMU.

“I’d like to slow this thing down a little bit and be a little more deliberate ourselves,” Eilert said.

The Cavaliers, under head coach Tony Bennett, will do just that.

Bennett’s pack-line defense is famous for slowing the pace of games down and shooting for low scores.
It’s also designed to snuff out scoring opportunities around the rim and in the paint, forcing opponents to beat Virginia from the outside.

It did not work in Virginia’s 65-41 loss against Wisconsin, as the Badgers scored 30 points in the paint and connected on 25 field goals.

“You always have that feeling that we’re there first and we’re anticipating,” Bennett said after the game. “We were late and behind and second. They got us behind and we were lackadaisical.”

Still, Virginia is allowing just 53.8 points per game, which is fifth in the country, and about on par with what the Cavaliers shoot for under Bennett.

WVU center Jesse Edwards — the Mountaineers’ top focus on offense — will likely feel smothered and congested throughout the game.

WVU will need to make some shots from the outside, which hasn’t been its strong suit so far.

West Virginia is making just 37.6% of its shots this season, which is last in the Big 12 and ranks No. 333 in the nation.

To put that in a better context, there are 64 teams in the country with a better 3-point shooting percentage than the Mountaineers shoot from the floor.

And Virginia will try and take advantage of that.

“Certainly, I want to take advantage of the open floor,” Eilert said. “If we can score early, if not, then score late. So, we’re trying to figure out how to turn that page and go to work.”

WVU vs. No. 24 VIRGINIA

WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Suncoast Credit Union Arena, Fort Myers, Fla.
TV: FS1 (Comcast 271, HD 857; DirecTV 219; DISH 150)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM
WEB: dominionpost.com