How WVU Might Move Forward With More Open Offense

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins diagrams a play during a timeout
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins diagrams a play during a timeout

West Virginia’s loss of two post players for the 2020-21 season has forced a change in the way the Mountaineer men’s basketball team will run offense, and some of those changes have been seen in recent games. While a move to a more open court offense is underway, there are many different manners in which the coaching staff can implement possessions that take better advantage of its remaining personnel.

Following are a pair of videos that show different aspects of two different schemes that West Virginia might incorporate for the remainder of the season. It’s important to note that none of this is “one size fits all,” however. As WVU works to figure out the best ways to get more operating room for Derek Culver in the lane while also creating better spacing and open shots for its perimeter players, it will pick and choose different actions and initial sets from several different options.

The “four out/one in” description has been tossed around a good bit to describe WVU’s modified approach, and at its base that’s correct. The “one,” of course, is Culver, who is the Mountaineers’ bedrock inside. The following video is a bit lengthy, but for those looking to have a good understanding of how some of the base concepts in the offense work, it’s well worth the time to watch.

Also note the mention of WVU head coach Bob Huggins just before the one-minute mark.

Many of these concepts will keep the big man on the blocks or at the elbows of the lane, and while that’s optimal for Culver, it’s not the only way that he can be utilized. WVU can also start its offense with a five-out look, with Culver away from the basket. That doesn’t mean he’s going to stay on the perimeter for the entire possession, though. Starting him outside, letting him set an initial screen or make an early pass, then allowing him to duck inside for a post up is a good counter to defenses that identify him early inside and set up double teams. If West Virginia can execute this tweak with good timing, Culver can find a spot, receive the ball and make a move before the defense can rotate against the action and run a second defender at him.

Another challenge for the Mountaineers is the way in which it can best utilize Gabe Osabuohien offensively. Teams are dropping off him, with his defender playing something of a one-man zone, even when he’s at the high post around the free throw line. That also contributes to some of the double teams Culver has gotten, when both are in the game at the same time.

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If Osabuohien is spelling Culver, he could play in the low post and force defenses to cover him. From there, WVU could run its offense inside out, and take advantage of Osabuohien’s excellent passing ability. There’s also no reason that Osabuohien can’t score when he gets the ball against single coverage, so long as he does not rush or jump before he has a space for a shot. That’s not the primary option for him, but if he can at least occupy a defender — and get in position to rebound — there should be ways in which he can be effective in this offense.

The second video is another overview, this time of the move to more and more five-out sets. It starts with a review of how it began in the NBA, but then morphs into its trickle down into college.

West Virginia is mentioned here, but as the antithesis to the five-out ‘revolution’. This viedo  was before the loss of Isaiah Cottrell to injury and Oscar Tshiebwe’s abdication, though, which puts this in a different perspective.

If Culver is on the court, WVU isn’t going to be running these sorts of actions with any frequency. However, what if he and Osabuohien aren’t in the game? The Mountaineers could clearly use some of these principles if it is playing a smaller lineup. Even if there is a big on the court, it can mesh some of these perimeter screens with the aforementioned duck-ins discussed above.

One other way in which better spacing could help WVU is in drives to the basket. Can the four-out and five-out help Deuce McBride, Taz Sherman and, specifially Emmitt Matthews, Jr., be more productive off the bounce? The open space could allow them more opportunities to drive, and take advantage of the driving ability which each has shown at times this season. That weapon has to become a more consistent part of West Virgiia’s offensive game.

Executing all of this isn’t as simple as flipping a switch, though. Much of the action in these offenses is of the read and react variety — of seeing how opponents defend screens, then attacking whatever the resulting weakness is. That takes practice to run successfully on the fly, and it’s a process of improvement that won’t be achieved overnight.

And, of course, there’s the almighty key — one that head coach Bob Huggins reiterates time and again. No matter the offensive system, teams have to make open shots to win. Setting those chances up, and putting players in position to get shots that best suit their games, is the first step, but the final determinant of success is getting those shots to go down.

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    West Virginia’s loss of two post players for the 2020-21 season has forced a change in the way the Mountaineer men’s basketball team will run offense,
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    Kevin, a question.  When Culver is in the game would he be the primary high post guy?  And can he get to the point where he can consistently make the 12-15 foot jumper?  He has made a few this year.  But he has also only taken a few of them as well.  So the sample size is small.

    If Culver is in the game but not at the high post who else might be there?  Seems like the primary candidates to me are Matthews and Bridges.  Any insight you can provide would be appreciated, I’m not really a basketball guy.


    Great stuff Kevin.  How does Gabe fit in here?  He’s also a pretty good passer but struggles with his shot outside of …..  well …. he just struggles.


    cinci:  I think the way I see WVU using DC is in a modified way. He might start outside – even out at the 3-point line — and make an initial pass or screen. Then he could duck from that into a spot in the lane or on the blocks closer to the basket where he’s most effective, and receive a return pass.

    This would help force his defender to move a little out of the lane, although obviously he can play off if DC doesn’t hit a shot or two from the circle.  That’s not his best shot, obviously, but I still think he can make enough to make this work.

    It wouldn’t be  WVU doing this all the time. I think we’ll see a mix where he starts out low sometimes, in the high post sometimes and further out a little bit. But in the end, all roads lead to him getting the ball on the blocks or in the lane.

    Your ideas for other players in the post are good ones. Granted that’s a different skill set, and their need to pass effectively from there is vital. I think WVU will mostly get away from the high/low post game for the most part, though, but we’ll see.

    Don’t mean to say I have all the answers – just got some pointers in this direction, and the mentions of Huggs and WVU were interesting.


    Thanks Butler. No doubt that Gabe’s jumper isn’t a part of the primary game plan.

    BUT (That’s a big but, LOL) I do think he can score enough in the lane to take advantage when defenses drop off him. He can put it on the floor once or twice and get into better shooting spot, but I fell like he rushes so much and takes awkward shots that it affects him greatly. I know the coaches are trying to get him to slow down when he has the ball, but that can be difficult, especially when your game is built on energy.

    I would hope for more rebounds, more defense from him, as those are his strengths. And in offensive sets, he can pass from anywhere, and maybe roll him off on screen the screener action or a pick and roll to get him the ball closer to the rim.


    Good article.  Loved the videos.


    Interesting video.  WVU also needs the learn how to defend the 5 out.





    JAL ,

    My thought is that it’s not that WVU doesn’t know how to defend on the perimeter – it just doesn’t have a bunch of players who have the talent to do so.

    Part of that may be comparison, we still view defnese through the all-time lens of Press Virginia, which was a once in a generation group.

    On this team, who has shown they can defend consistently away from the hoop?

    I think Deuce can, and DC and Gabe can – maybe not against a quick guard, but they can hedge screens and stay in front of forwards. Kedrian perhaps, but not enough court time yet for me to make that call.

    Other than that, I have not seen enough to include anyone else. That does not mean that they never can, but right now I see a lot of questions.


    While the sample is small I liked what I saw, so far, from Bridges, Johnson, and Thweatt.  I do not expect any of them to play perfect but there are a few, who shall remain nameless, that tend to lose their man.  Not because they get screened off, that happens as well but is part of the game.  They just seem to get caught up in watching the game and then, suddenly, they are watching their man make a layup.  That drives me nuts because it has nothing to do with ability.


    Good observations cinci. I should be more clear in stating who I think was defending well now, or had showed it enough to put them in the “reliable” category.  I hope you are right, and if WVU can get 2-3 more guys defending well, that would be a big help.

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