West Virginia University’s Men’s Basketball team has taken on a new playing style, defensively, and a new nickname, as well, this season.
Coach Bob Huggins took advice from an old friend this summer after looking at the roster. That friend was Kevin Mackey, who was coach of Cleveland State during the 1980’s and had a pretty good full-court pressing team of his own.
Mackey beat Huggins five times while the current WVU coach was the head coach at Akron.
West Virginia did a good job emulating that press during the first half of its season, going 12-1 during the non-conference portion of its schedule.
Since then, however, the Mountaineers have went just 6-4 during their first 10 Big 12 games, including losing back to back games in a row for the first time this season, in blowout losses to Oklahoma and Baylor.
So what has changed?
The level of competition is one thing, for sure. WVU faced just one ranked opponent through its first 13 games, where as the Mountaineers have squared off against five ranked teams and have five more games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25.
Better teams means better athletes.
The press was exhausting lesser opponents, which helped WVU create more turnovers and get more steals.
The best example of this was when the Mountaineers broke the school record for forced turnovers with 36, and tied the school record for steals (26) in a 103-72 win against Virginia Military Institute in Charleston, WV early this season.
West Virginia was forcing an average of 23 turnovers and 13.5 steals per game during the non-conference portion of its schedule. In comparison, since starting Big 12 play, WVU is forcing an average of 20 turnovers and 10.6 steals per game.
Big 12 opponents’ shooting percentage is also higher than WVU’s other opponents, and the Mountaineer’s shooting percentage is down since starting Big 12 play.
The changes in those stats were highlighted Tuesday’s loss at No. 21 Oklahoma. West Virginia forced a season-low 13 turnovers, while the Sooners shot over 61-percent for the game and the Mountaineers only made 34-percent of their shots.
That game was played just three weeks after WVU defeated the Sooners in the Coliseum 86-65 behind 22 turnovers and 16 steals.
WVU secured its first 12 victories by nearly 16 points per game. However, the Mountaineers have only been outscoring its opponents by less than one point per game.
So what does all of this means?
It means that Big 12 teams aren’t afraid of the press; they’re going right at it.
The press has turned from 2 on 1 traps by West Virginia – a lot of times ending in turnovers – into 2 on 1, and sometimes 3 on 1, run outs by its opponents – usually ending in points for the other team.
Also, it seems that the 40 minutes of high defensive intensity is having an adverse effect on WVU.
The press is designed to wear down your opponent both physically and mentally. However, it’s not making Big 12 teams as tired as it seems to be making the Mountaineers.
The teams they’re playing only have to deal with the pressure twice.
Now that the Mountaineers are 23 games and countless practices into their season, they are the ones who seem to be getting tired out by the full-court pressure. Huggins has even done a good job of substituting players in attempt to keep them as fresh as possible during games.
I’m not suggesting that WVU need’s to abandon the press for the final eight games of the regular season, because it is evident that it’s one of the main reasons West Virginia is 18-5 this year.
But it does need fixed. Needs the screws tightened. Juwan Staten and company need to get back to playing the stifling defense they were at the beginning of the year.
Let’s hope the Mountaineers can negate a bad end to the season by turning from West Virginia back into Press Virginia.