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WVU basketball: Noreen is center of attention for Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There was a time when Kevin Noreen was Mr. Basketball in Minnesota and his high school team couldn't win without him.

A lot has changed since his days at Minnesota Transitions Charter School. He's traded bushels of baskets and 3-point shots for rebounds and ball screens, but one thing is suddenly again the same. Noreen is literally in the middle of what West Virginia has to do to win.

"I'd like to think that," the 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore said. "You sell yourself to the coaching staff every day in practice and show what you bring to the table."

The Mountaineers (8-9, 1-3 Big 12) play host to TCU (9-9, 0-5) at 7:30 p.m. The ESPN2 game at the Coliseum will likely feature WVU's new offensive tactic for a third straight game. The Mountaineers are playing an open, four-out, one-in offense where Noreen is the one inside and facilitates the four guards on the outside.

WVU Coach Bob Huggins started this philosophical shift in the second half of last week's loss at Iowa State, where his team battled back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game late and Noreen had 10 rebounds.

Huggins had grown tired of watching his five-out, motion offense stall with players who wouldn't pass and against defenses that would sink down from the perimeter to crowd the paint and take away WVU's cuts and passes.

The open offense spreads the floor more and creates more room for the guards.  

"It's really designed to get the four guards paint touches," Noreen said. "What they're trying to do is drive the ball and kick it out for a shot or drive it and shoot a layup. They want me setting ball screens and giving them a path to the basket. It's just designed to get the open looks we weren't getting with our motion."

The change isn't as sudden as it seems.

The Mountaineers had it in their repertoire for a while, but Huggins was partial to his motion offense and felt his bigger lineups were better.

He started the season with Aaric Murray and Deniz Kilicli starting in the frontcourt. He later swapped them for Noreen and Rutledge.  

The Mountaineers coach exhausted his patience, though, as he watched his bigger players struggle to pass and rebound.

Rutledge was switched out for Matt Humphrey, who may give way tonight to Terry Henderson if he's able to return from the back injury that kept him out of the past two games.

Huggins said Tuesday the motion offense is still the team's primary offense, but said he'll continue to use the open offense. He can use any of the big players with the four guards, but Noreen is best suited for the assignment.

"He's going to rebound it," Huggins said. "You can't say that about any of those other guys."

Noreen averages 4.6 rebounds per game, second on the team to Murray (6.8). Murray had 10 rebounds against Texas but has eight in the three games since. Noreen had 13 rebounds against Texas and has 19 since. Noreen is also selfless on offense, sometimes to a fault, with just 28 shot attempts in 290 minutes this season.

He doesn't have a problem with being on the floor to set screens and rebound - and he happens to be good at both. Noreen hasn't been called for an illegal screen in conference play.

"This (offense) does amplify some of the things I'm doing," he said.

Though WVU isn't new to this idea, it's new to using it in games. There are no set plays. There's no progression plan like there is in the motion offense. What Noreen does for his guards is based mostly on his feel for what his teammates are going to do.

"You have to be a step ahead of the other defense and even your point guard so you're not in the way," Noreen said. "It's about screening and keeping guys off and then trying to get away from the ball."

He can start down low and pop up high to set the screen for a driving teammate, who then has to decide to stop and shoot, drive for a layup or pass to a teammate.

There are occasions for Noreen to roll to the basket, which he thought he should have done more often against a Purdue defense that used Noreen's defender to guard the driving guard.

Noreen said there are also concepts to get the ball to him or another big player in the post for one-on-one offense. A second defender is too far away to double team, though if he does, the guard he leaves is open for a jumper.

It's not complex, but it's not easy to resist certain urges in a game.

"I don't know how much you have to think to stand on the block opposite the ball or flash up to the high post," Huggins said. "I don't think it's all too complicated. But I think the tendency is most guys want to be ball side. What we're trying to do is get help (defense) as far away as we can and get a better opportunity to rebound it."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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