Focus On Defensive Execution As WVU Enters Noncon Finals

Huggins: Press, 1-3-1 Zone The Test Over Next Two Games

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins has always held a primary focus on defense. Now he wishes his team would do the same.

Freshly minted as a top 10 team in the major polls, West Virginia comes off a less-than-stellar effort in the 98-50 exhibition win over Wheeling Jesuit on Saturday. It isn’t that the Mountaineers (9-1) have truly lacked in that capacity; Indeed, WVU leads the nation in turnover margin and ranks fifth in turnovers forced and steals per game with more than 20 and 10, respectively.

But there are aspects to clean up, portions of play to tidy, and this string of Coppin State and Fordham to end the primary nonconference schedule represents the last of the non-major conference opponents and the final time to tinker and toy before games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State open Big 12 play.

“We gotta get our pressure straightened out,” Huggins said. “We gotta continue to work at the 1-3-1. Our effort wasn’t very good (in the exhibition). They know where they are supposed to go; it’s a matter of them doing it.”

West Virginia defenders Lamont West (15) and Jevon Carter (3) move in for a trap

That’s to be anticipated, if not tolerated considering West Virginia came off wins over Virginia and Pitt before hosting Wheeling Jesuit in a schedule-filler. But in the same way Pitt pulled back into the contest because of a lack of ability to slow the Panthers in man or zone sans Jevon Carter and Dax Miles, the Mountaineers remain unpolished even while holding foes to an average of 65.4 points per game.

“We watched about 30 minutes of film on how bad we were on Saturday, and we were bad defensively,” Huggins said. “It’s one thing somebody telling you about it, it’s another thing where you can see it. We can stop it and run it back and stop it again.

“That ball mesmerizes people. You have a tendency to stand and watch the ball and not go where you are supposed to go. Ball pressure is a wonderful thing when it comes to defense. If you have pressure on the ball, people don’t stand and look around. They worry about unloading it as fast as they can unload it. Our traps weren’t very good. Our on-the-ball pressure wasn’t very good. We weren’t where we were supposed to be help side so the court looked bigger. Instead of shrinking it we made it bigger. It was a lot of different things.”

West Virginia isn’t likely to be challenged by a winless Coppin State team. The Eagles (0-11) will play their 11th contest away from home, where they have been blown out by the likes of Ohio (80-37) and Cleveland State (80-56) while performing a touch better versus Connecticut in a 72-59 setback on Dec. 9. Head coach Juan Dixon, in his first season at the Baltimore-based school, starts three juniors and a senior in addition to freshman guard Keandre Fair.

“They have played people tough,” said Huggins, now just two wins shy of a seventh-place tie on the all-time NCAA list at 830. “They gave Connecticut all they could handle at UConn. It’s a matter of if you can make enough shots because hopefully they won’t get inside.”

But CSU has struggled to score, with no players averaging double figures, while rebounding and being able to slow opposing offenses have been hindrances to any type of solid start for a program that went 8-24 a season ago while losing their first dozen games that year. This is a program in search of a proper foundation, and among the final games where the biggest of challenges lies within for West Virginia.

That starts with a better understanding of angles and how to approach the defensive assignments, along with maintaining pressure on the ball even in the zone. There were times the Mountaineers dropped their hands in the exhibition, allowing Wheeling Jesuit easier passing lanes and vision to driving lanes and teammates. That’ll be among the main points of sale in this one, which won’t help the RPI or strength of schedule come Selection Sunday.

“Defense travels,” Huggins said. “Offense doesn’t travel sometimes. You could have much more success being consistent defensively than you can offensively. That doesn’t mean offense isn’t important. I like to see it go through the basket as much as anybody. But it’s hard to be consistent on that end of the floor. It takes a lot more skill. There’s so much more involved on offense than people realize.”