Syracuse needed to handle two standouts in the round of 64. Those were Mountain West Player of the Year Matt Mitchell and guard Jordan Schakel, who shot a conference best 47% from three in the regular season. The two led San Diego State in scoring in 21 of its 27 games.
The Orange were able to shut the two of them down in a 78-62 win.
Lack of depth ultimately downed the Aztecs. Aside from Mitchell and Schakel, SDSU shot 10-of-32 (31%) from the field and 5-for-19 (26%) from long range. The Aztecs were too top heavy entering the tournament and it showed. The game was a wrap once secondary players like guard Trey Pulliam and center Nathan Mensah couldn’t buy a shot.
How does this have anything to do with the Mountaineers?
Depth is something West Virginia embraces. Four players average double figures in points which is impressive in its own right. But it’s the distribution of scoring that separates the Mountaineers from most teams in the country.
Number of times as WVU leading scorer (27 games)
G Miles McBride – 8 games
F Derek Culver – 8 games
G Taz Sherman – 5 games
G Sean McNeil – 4 games
F Jalen Bridges – 2 games
The weapons on this team are endless. If Syracuse stabilizes McBride (leading scorer, 16 points/game), then what’s stopping Culver (14 points and 10 rebounds per game) or Sherman (13 points/game) from showing up offensively.
It’s hard to gameplan for a team with this attribute because there are forceable tradeoffs. Let one Mountaineer run rampant while making sure his teammates have little to no success. Then the glaring issue is when these five are on the floor together. In a zone, the task becomes even harder because a slip-up in coverage or late shift leaves plenty of open space for shooters.
The only way the Orange can counteract WVU’s balanced scoring attack is being open to adjustments. A set gameplan on defense won’t accomplish anything. Instead, Boeheim and company need to feel the game out. If SU is able to adjust mid-game, in order to cool down the hot hand, it has no reason to fear WVU. But entering the game, Syracuse should be cognizant that four or five Mountaineers have the ability to turn a switch on offense.