By Ken Cross
In his eighth year, West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins may be presiding over a team that features the most depth and completeness in his Morgantown tenure. They are outscoring their opponents by a whopping 26 points per game while bolting to a 9-1 record as that only loss came at the hands of Virginia two weeks ago. West Virginia has six things you need to get in position to win a power league an to play deep into March: (1) Great post play; (2) hard-nosed defense; (3) extreme depth; (4) a blindingly quick pressure scheme that can cause turnovers in bunches in the back court; (5) multi-talented guards; and (6) an ultra-successful coach in Bob Huggins, who is Hall of Fame worthy. If this all comes together and the team stays healthy and can navigate a beast of a travel schedule in the Big 12, Kansas’s 10-year reign on the Big 12 regular season title could be put on notice. Here is a break down of those six areas:
Devin Williams could be playing his way into all-America status as he is possibly the catalyst of this team. he is averaging 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor. Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon are figuring well inside as Holton is second on the team in rebounding while Macon is always active around the basket in shooting 64.4 percent. Freshman Esa Ahmad has come in as a starter and is already a steady contributor with 21 minutes per game. The Mountaineers are strong on the offensive glass as they have outscored opposition, 21.9 – 7.5 in the first ten games.
Putting Jaysean Paige and Daxter Miles, Jr. on both sides of Carter creates matchup nightmares as West Virginia can live off of Carter’s dribble penetration skills or the three ball game of he and Paige. Miles is more of a slasher and a mid-range player, so he is able to get to the rim inside of the half-court offense. Philip Joins Carter as distributors as both of them and Miles fashion defensive stops consistently in the half-court or in the press. A key for the guards in general is to pick up the 30.4 percent that the team shoots from three-point range.
Handling the ball, though is a concern for Huggins, who sees WVU turned the ball over a surprising 14.4 times per game. This is the one area where he sees and issue and it is not all on the guards.
“We work out butts off, for instance the last game, and they (Marshall) didn’t do anything and we turned it over 18 times,” cautioned Huggins, “We have taken being charitable to a new level. We make passes where there is nobody guarding the ball or who we’re throwing it to and we still throw it away. That’s the one thing we have done here pretty well. We have to do a better job of ball security.”
A testy half-court defense:
This team plays great position defense in the half court. They hold opponents to 40 percent on average and Huggins wants to see that get better. Much of that statistic comes from the Virginia loss where the Cavaliers shot 62.8 percent and were 14-of-19 in the second half. Virginia scored from close as the normally dependable post defense and the protection of the paint, which WVU does so well, didn’t come into play.
“We haven’t changed out approach or the way we defend three-pointers,” said Huggins’ whose opponents only shoot 22 percent from the floor, “I am not so sure we shouldn’t flip the switch and make them make shots from three and not give so many two-point shots.
Huggins has had the same starting five for the entire season, but has nine players averaging double figures in minutes. Guards Tarik Philip comes off the bench and averages 20 minutes per game, as he has 34 assists and 20 steals against only 16 turnovers. He doesn’t shoot it as well as Jevon Carter, but is getting the reputation of the WVU defensive stopper. Nathan Adrian and Macon feature activity as the are much of the reason why West Virginia out-rebounds opponents by 13 per game and cleans the offensive glass at 18.4 per night.
The hashtag has caught on in Twitter circles as it underlines the speed that Huggins throws at people in the full 94-feet. He had a tough time pressing the entire court and doing it this much in his first six years, but the last two have shown the way Huggs likes to play and the pressure has been a major key in forcing opponents into 22.3 turnovers per outing. The 12.1 steals per game currently lead the nation as WVU outscores opponents 29.2 – 11.5 per game, so far. Huggins says the Mounaineers can do even more with the press.
“We did some pretty good things yesterday (in an 86-68 win over Marshall); before non-conference, I don’t know,” said Huggins, “We are going to play Monday and let them go until the 26th and spend the rest of the time getting ready for Virginia Tech, so it come pretty fast.”
The Huggs factor:
Huggins is on the fast track to the Hall of Fame with his impressive credentials at Walsh College, Akron, Cincinnati, and now WVU, his alma mater where he played in the late 1970s. He is a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach, who believes that turning defense into offense is a must to be consistently successful. Leading a West Virginia team to the Final Four in 2010 that was predominantly John Belien’s players. Inheriting players that play a different system makes for hard transitions, but Huggins immediately saw the talents of the team and taught them how to be tougher mentally and on defense. It may be one of his best coaching job in a career that is a laundry list of outstanding coaching. His 774 wins speak for themselves as they are 13th all-time.