Mountaineers, Cavaliers Want Very Different Pace
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia will face a psychological battle with Virginia as well as a physical one.
The pace and persistence of the Cavalier offense creates a defensive impatience, and at times a tendency to try and force the action rather than staying sound and relying upon fundamentals. That’s the challenge for West Virginia, which will pit its pressing, uptempo style against UVA’s methodical, screening offense that continually searches for excellent looks while extending the time foes must play defense.
That puts a premium on being able to dictate pace via turning the Cavs over and getting high percentage looks in transition. That’s something the Mountaineers excelled at last season in a 66-57 win in Charlottesville and largely failed at in the 70-54 defeat at Madison Square Garden in 2015.
“I think a lot is said about their defense, but the reality is they control the game with their offense,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “What happens is you don’t want to go down and play defense for 30 seconds and take a shot in five seconds and then go back and play defense. It’s kind of like running the ball in football. Control the clock. They do a great job of controlling the clock.”
The contrast in styles has created vast chasms between the scoring averages. West Virginia is hitting at an 89.6 points-per-game clip while UVA is scoring 70.5 points per outing on average, with WVU allowing 66.6 points per game to Virginia’s 50.6. The No. 15 Cavaliers (8-0) have held foes to totals of 42, 48 and 49 points while Wisconsin managed just 37 in a 12-point defeat.
“They are going to be about the same,” Huggins said. “They don’t have an experienced point guard like they had a year ago, but they are good. They are pack line on defense and movers and blockers on offense.”
The hope is that No. 18 West Virginia (7-1) can push the tempo and force UVA into making poor decisions on the fly. That should ideally create added scoring chances, especially of the breakaway variety. Add that to a solid shooting night to bust Virginia’s pack line defense – one that has all players stationed inside the arc to force longer, lower percentage looks save the on-ball defender – and it’s a recipe for victory.
“Hard to beat anybody when you don’t make shots,” Huggins said. “They are hard to speed up, but we got them sped up last year. We had them sped up the year before a little bit, but you can’t make bonehead plays. Two years ago we made some really bonehead plays. You don’t want a whole lot of separation, because then it becomes harder.”
This is the 19th meeting between the teams, with the series split 9-9. It will be Virginia’s first visit to Morgantown since 1985. The Cavaliers have two players averaging double figures, and are led by guard Kyle Grey, a steady outside threat who averages a team-best 16.6 points per game and will likely draw the defense of Jevon Carter. Fellow guard Devon Hall totals 11.8 points and four rebounds.
West Virginia, meanwhile, has five players averaging 9.6 or more points, with Dax Miles 34 points shy of becoming the school’s 52nd 1,000-point scorer. Huggins lamented that the Mountaineers practiced poorly on Sunday, however, noting that “after practice I am ready for Brooklyn College. We were not very good.”
Note: Huggins also addressed scheduling the regional foe.
“I tried to play Virginia Tech, Pitt and Virginia because I thought that’s what our people wanted to see,” Huggins said. “I don’t want everybody to wait until January to come to a game. Try to sprinkle in some of those games that are kind of longstanding rivalries. I can’t imagine it won’t be (sold out). Otherwise I don’t know why we do what we do. Otherwise we could go play Jimmy V or one of those games in the Garden.”