WVU’s Magic Number

When you watch something closely over a long period of time, you pick up on things that other people might not pick up on.

Growing up in West Virginia, in a WVU household, I grew up watching WVU basketball – starting when the team was still playing in the Big East Conference, and since it has transitioned to the Big 12.

When the Mountaineers played in their former conference, and even in their first two seasons in their new conference, the pace of play was a bit slower. West Virginia relied on its half-court sets to supply much of the offense, and every possession was key.

Now it its second year running its Press Virginia style of play, both WVU and its opponents get more possessions per game, and the Mountaineer offense works better when in transition, or setting up after forcing a turnover.

But not only has Bob Huggins changed the style in which the game is played when his Mountaineer teams have stepped on the court since the start of last season, but he has also upped the scoring in the process.

Through its first 43 games, Press Virginia is scoring an average of 79.3 points per game, where as WVU was scoring almost seven points per game less in the seven years prior to last season starting in the 2007-2008 season.

The change in style of play and increase in offense it has created, albeit successful overall, has made it somewhat tougher to gauge where West Virginia stands after the first half of play.

One thing that I picked up on growing up watching Joe Alexander– and Da’Sean Butler-led teams, was that West Virginia needed to score a certain amount of points in the first half if it wanted to have a chance to win the game in the second half.

That number was 25.

It wasn’t full proof, but it was consistent.

More often than not, when WVU scored 25 or more points in the first half I felt good about the team’s chances in the second half. When the Mountaineers failed to reach that point total in the opening 20 minutes, most of the time it meant they had an uphill climb in the final 20 minutes.

It has occurred to me over the past few weeks that I haven’t pinpointed a magic number for Press Virginia to reach in the first half since going to the press.

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WVU’s Esa Ahmad attempts a free throw in the first half against Northern Kentucky. WVU won the game 107-61. 

During the 2014-2015 campaign, West Virginia scored an average of 34.3 first-half points per game. The team’s average was at its highest during its non-conference portion of the schedule when it scored nearly 37 points in the first half on average.

Big 12-play saw that average dip to 33 points during the opening 20 minutes.

Those numbers show part of the reason why WVU was 12-1 entering the Big 12 portion of its schedule, but was just 11-7 in conference play.

And it should be no surprise that the Mountaineers scored more points inside the WVU Coliseum than they did on the road or at neutral sites.

The same has held true through their first nine games this season.

West Virginia has scored 11 more points at home in the first half than it has away from Morgantown.

One thing that has changed, however, has been that last season Press Virginia improved on its first-half performance with a higher scoring output in the second half, where as this season the Mountaineers have been building much bigger leads going into halftime and have been able to coast in the second half.

The halftime score is another thing that goes into finding a magic number.

West Virginia was 22-3 last year when leading or tied at the half, and even had a winning record in games in which it trailed by 12 points or less going into halftime, scoring nearly 35 first-half points in those games.

WVU has yet to trail after the first 20 minutes of play this season, and more often than not has taken a double-digit lead into the locker room, averaging 47.8 points in the first half.

That number is inflated somewhat, given the toughness or lack thereof of the teams West Virginia has played so far.

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Devin Williams (center) jumps for a rebound in the first half against Stetson. 

When looking at all the data collected a few numbers stood out that best display what WVU’s magic number is.

Those are the numbers for conference and post season scoring last year – not including WVU’s game in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky –, the median first-half score from last season, and the average first-half score against quality opponents this season.

The numbers in that order at 33.1, 35.7, 35 and 35.

Together those numbers get you to Press Virginia’s magic number: 34

Scoring 34 or more points in the first half led Press Virginia to a 15-3 record last season, whereas scoring 33 or less contributed to a 10-7 record. This year WVU has put up 34 or more points during the first 20 minutes of play in each of their nine games, and currently have a 8-1 record, with its only loss coming to now-eighth-ranked Virginia.

Ironically enough, 34 also signifies the number of years Huggins has been a head coach.

Huggins and company will attempt to hit its magic number Thursday when the Mountaineers take on state-rival Marshall.

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