Breaking bad: Poor offense, good defense both getting worse

Feb 22, 2020; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; TCU Horned Frogs center Kevin Samuel (21) swats the ball away from West Virginia Mountaineers forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the second half at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

A late-season free fall where West Virginia has lost five of its last six games has fans asking the question: How are the Mountaineers losing so much?

A deep dive into the statistics raises a different question. How have they won so much?

West Virginia’s (19-9, 7-8 Big 12) recent shooting struggles are no secret to Mountaineers fans. But the Mountaineers aren’t just offensively deficient. They are historically bad.

There are 353 Division I college basketball teams. West Virginia ranks behind 300 of them in the following offensive categories: 3-point field goal percentage (335th), 3-point field goals made (334), free-throw percentage (332) and turnovers (301).

In other offensive statistics, the Mountaineers ranks aren’t as cataclysmic. They’re just generally bad: Assists (232), Assist-to-turnover ratio (296), field-goal percentage (251) and scoring (206).

Broken down in cold numbers, it’s not hard to see how the Mountaineers have lost five of six. It’s hard to see how they won 19.

The obvious answer is in their strengths – defense and rebounding. And the statistical rankings back that up.

WVU is in the nation’s top 15 in the following defensive/rebounding categories: Offensive rebounding (1), field-goal percentage defense (11), rebounding margin (7) and scoring defense (14).

So why was the defense/rebounding > offense formula so successful for the first two-thirds of the season and now in utter collapse?

The simplest explanation is that during the current skid, the Mountaineers are weaker in their weaknesses not as strong in their strengths.

West Virginia has less-than-pedestrian averages in field-goal shooting percentage (42.4) and points scored per game (70.1). Those numbers look like the “Showtime” Lakers compared to what the Mountaineers have done during their last six games. During this stretch, they shot 36.6 percent from the field and scored an average of 58.1 points. Those averages would nationally rank 348th and 345th, respectively.

While the offense has gotten worse, so has West Virginia’s defense and rebounding.

The Mountaineers field-goal defense averages 38.4 percent on the season. During this five losses in six games slide, opponents have hit 45.4 percent of their shots. How big a drop off have we seen in the Mountaineers defense? Their season field-goal defense is 11th best in the nation. The total they’ve permitted during this six-game stretch would rank 297th.

Likewise, the rebounding has fallen off. WVU failed to win the rebounding battle in four of the last six games. The Mountaineers do have the overall rebounding margin over that stretch, but that margin is just 3.8 boards per game. They average eight more rebounds per game for the season.

A bad offensive team became abysmal and a good defensive and rebounding team became below average. It’s easy to see why a winning team has become a losing one.

What’s much more difficult is finding what can be done to change it.