Mountaineers prepare for Murray State

Photo courtesy of West Virginia University Senior Jevon Carter and the Mountaineers will begin their 2018 NCAA Tournament journey Friday.

MORGANTOWN — The process of preparing for Friday’s NCAA Tournament first-round game against Murray State began the moment West Virginia found out the Racers were the team it was playing.

James Long, West Virginia’s video coordinator, began downloading all of the Murray State video he could get in order to have DVD copies ready for assistant coach Erik Martin to begin his scouting report and then have the five most recent games for coach Bob Huggins to peruse.

Then, Long compiles any information for which Martin could ask — team stats, roster with heights and weights, box scores of the most recent five games and any recent feature stories or articles on the team.

“The first couple of hours, it’s just a bunch of information gathering and then after that, we start breaking it down,” Long explained.

By mid-Monday morning, Long had everything ready to go for Murray State and was on to potential second-round opponents Wichita State and Marshall, culling their last five games to have ready on DVD.

All of that information will be assembled and ready to go for whichever coach is assigned the scout for the opponent West Virginia will face in the second round, should it advance.

By the way, Murray State is doing the exact same thing.

Why are the last five games so important?

“Generally, the teams in the tournament are playing for conference championships, and they’re not hiding anything,” Huggins explained Sunday. “They’re putting their best stuff out there.”

Some of the things Huggins is looking for is what sets they run the most and how they get their best players open for shots.

Then, he will look at their man offense and their zone offense. He also has to identify their press breakers, and will even look to see how Murray State will attack oddball defenses such as the 1-3-1 zone.

“I don’t foresee us playing any 1-3-1, but before we had to look at that – which is hard because a lot of people don’t play 1-3-1,” Huggins said.

However, before he gets to the video, he will examine the team roster looking for names that might be familiar through recruiting and then he goes to the stat sheet.

The first category he checks?

Field goal percentage.

“Then you look at how they get what they get,” Huggins said. “They are a very good free throw shooting team. They shoot 72 percent from the line. They are shooting 49 percent from the field, which is pretty good.”

Once all of this is compiled, then Huggins will look at specific things such as what their go-to offensive sets were in their close games.

Who are the screeners? Who are their best passers? Who are the shooters? From where are they taking them? Do they have guys who can crash the glass? Do they have good weakside rebounders, etc., etc.?

Once the staff gets all of that information compiled then comes the hard part — making sure the players understand the other team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“It doesn’t matter what I know, it’s what our guys know,” Huggins said.

Many, many years ago he learned this valuable lesson when he was a young head coach at Walsh. He found out then that everyone learns things much differently.

He used to see Sister Marie Halene (Chismar) and whenever he walked into her office, she would hand him a pencil and a piece of paper to take notes. After about four or five times he told her it wasn’t necessary (to take notes) because he had the gist of what she was saying.

“No,” she said. “I want you to take notes. I have found over the years of teaching the more of your senses that you use the better your chances of retaining it,” she told him.

The dean of students at Walsh once asked Huggins if he could come over and teach him a little bit more about basketball because the sport was becoming so popular on campus.

Huggins invited him over to watch practice, but the dean declined, saying he couldn’t learn that way. He’d rather have a book to read so Huggins gave him a copy of Bob Cousy’s popular book on basketball concepts.

Huggins’ point: people learn things differently.

“I’ve had guys who were dyslexic and they couldn’t read a scouting report, but they watched film and they did the walk through and learned it that way,” he noted. “We give them so many different ways to learn so we hit on what their best chance of learning is.

“You watch film with them. You do the walk through with them. You try and talk to them about it. We even give them written stuff, and some people do better with that,” he added.

Hopefully by Friday, the players will know what Murray State likes to do in certain situations, which players are uncomfortable with the ball in their hands, which direction leading scorer Jonathan Stark prefers to go to score, what defenses the Racers predominantly use, so on and so forth.

If they successfully pass that test, then it’s on to Sunday’s game. The studying and preparation become even more intensive because there is not nearly as much time to learn everything about the next team.

“The hard part are the quick turns, the second game,” Huggins said.

And oftentimes, that’s when experience and talent take over.