Legend At WLU Growing

Jim Crutchfield has heard the whispers, though that’s all they are really.

There are those who, for whatever reason, don’t think his current team is as good as the one before it, or more specifically, the NCAA Division II Final Four team from two years ago, despite its 23-1 record.

”I know sometimes athletes as they get older, they start to remember how great they were,” Crutchfield said. ”Teams have that some thing, too. All you can remember is Corey Pelle driving and John (Wolosinczuk) draining 3s. But there were some times when they didn’t actually do that a few games.”

Says who?

First, a thought from George Carlin’s bit about the invention of the one-hour photo comes to mind here.

”How can anyone be nostalgic about a concept like ‘a little while ago?’ ” he asked during the rant.

Pelle can.

”Make sure you tell them who was the best team,” Pelle said. ”We were undefeated and beat everyone by 32 points a game and averaged 112.”

And now a word from Mark Twain: ”Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.”

Those Hilltoppers actually only beat foes by an average of 29.7 points per game, though he was fairly spot on with the average points per game, which was 111.3.

Still, there’s a few problems there. Current WLU team leader Alex Falk started on both teams. Tim Hausfeld and Chris Morrow each averaged better than 16 minutes on that team two years ago, which featured four 1,000-point scorers (Pelle, Wolosinczuk, Jordan Fortney, and Barry Shetzer) and spawned all of these legends.

”Yeah, he helped us a lot, can’t take that away,” Pelle said of Falk. ”But in my eyes, we were way better. But that’s me being biased.”

The team from two years ago swept through the regular season, conference tournament, regional tournament, and the first game of the national tournament. It didn’t lose until it met BYU-Hawaii in the national semis – 130 days after the season opener.

Perhaps recognizing how truly special that team was, Crutchfield says most of what he hears is this team can’t match last year’s. The 2011-12 team, again, won the conference, regional, and reached the Elite 8, falling in the national quarterfinals.

”You guys were doing this last year and maybe you’re not doing it this year,” the coach hears. ”We have a better record, our margin of victory is better, we scored more points than we did last year. The conference is stronger than last year. I’m not trying to please anybody, I’m just trying to win the next game.”

There’s another variable that makes this impossible to judge. In recognizing the need to compete with three-time defending league champion West Liberty, athletics directors have brought in some serious coaching power and charged them with putting together the types of teams that can play with Hilltoppers. Nobody can argue Mark Downey’s track record at Charleston, or Greg Zimmerman’s at A-B, or Bryan Poore’s at W.Va. State.

Wheeling Jesuit’s Danny Sancomb has yet to field a team that couldn’t spring a monumental upset or compete to the last whistle. Fairmont State brought in heavily connected former WVU men’s basketball assistant Jarrod Calhoun this year, while W.Va. Wesleyan hired some star power in former WVU player Patrick Beilein, son of Michigan coach John Beilein.

What has transpired at the top of the conference is some serious high-end talent is playing basketball at these schools.

”Our conference is beating other conferences now,” Crutchfield said. ”They got the best of the PSAC, got the best of the CIAA. Our conference is as good as I’ve ever seen it.”

So how can we possibly come to any type of conclusion here? The same way everything else in sports is figured out.

With numbers.

Don Clegg, the former Wheeling News-Register sports editor who does some work for West Liberty’s sports communications department, ran some efficiency numbers, which on offense, are designed, in part, to figure out how many possessions a team gets per game, and how many points a team scores per possession, and on defense, how many it yields.

These seem to be some concrete guides in the murk of all the others.

The Hilltoppers from two years ago scored 1.349 points per possession and yielded 1.003, a difference of plus-0.346. This year’s team is averaging 1.320 points per possession, while yielding 0.975, a difference of plus-0.345. All of these number were, and are, tops in the WVC.

Those numbers suggest it’s a basically wash. Both teams crushed wills of opponents – both good and bad – at an eerily similar pace. As Crutchfield said, who’s next? That’s all he’s concerned about.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net