Huggins Wants A Return Of Press Virginia
A year ago, West Virginia’s basketball team was like Groucho Marx without his mustache, Pete Rose without his head-first slide, Robin without Batman and the Beatles without John Lennon.
They were a pressing team without a press.
They lost their identity, their mantra, their engine.
Bob Huggins says it will be back next year.
What form “Press Virginia” will take is yet to be determined, but he has created his team for next season with pressing in mind.
What was gone last year?
1. Jevon Carter, the best defensive player ever at the school, was drafted into the NBA.
2. Sagaba Konate, perhaps the best rim protector ever at WVU, was injured and missed most of the season, leaving it vulnerable to press breakers.
Here is what the statistics showed from 2017-18 to 2018-19:
Two years ago … 301 steals, 611 turnovers forced, 192 blocked shots, gave up 69.6 points a game.
Last year … 223 steals (down 78, or 26 percent), 484 turnovers forced (down 127, or 21 percent), 126 blocked shots (down 66, or 34 percent), gave up 77.4 points a game (7.8 points a game or up 11 percent).
Conversely, the WVU offense went from scoring 80.1 points a game to 73.8, down 7.3 points and from shooting 43.6 percent to 41.3 percent, probably because it didn’t get the easy baskets that came out of the press.
Huggins had tinkered with his press throughout the time he used it, depending on personnel. Jonathan Holton, Nathan Adrian, John Flowers all gave him different ways he could do it and Carter, of course, was the key to it all because of the theory Huggins was espousing.
“It’s the old adage, cut the head off, the snake will die,” he said the other day, not necessarily referring to the Sabraton python.
Just what did he mean by that?
“We tried to not let the primary ball handler have the ball much,” he explained. “If you think about it, what we did was end up with someone having the ball to start the offense with 20 seconds to go rather than with 30 seconds on the clock.”
That meant they hounded the point guard after made baskets to try and keep from inbounding to him so he could bring it up the court against the press and get the offense in gear.
“That way they had to get the ball back to the point guard. Then he had to initiate the offense. What we were doing was making them play with a short shot clock,” Huggins pointed out. “You won’t get the ball reversal that you get with the full clock.”
Last year he just didn’t have the personnel to do that, especially with Konate out.
This year, though, he believes he’s developed improved play for the press with Jermaine Haley at 6-foot-7 finally figuring out what he was doing and getting comfortable, with rim a protector in incoming five-star freshman recruit Oscar Tshiebwe and with Derek Culver to dominate the backboards.
Culver’s rebounding ability is such that WVU can afford to keep the pressure out further as the guards and wings don’t have to do as much on the boards.
What’s more, Emmitt Matthews is an improving defender who is taking pride in his work on the defensive end.
The only thing he doesn’t have is the Jevon Carter ball thief, but who does?
With a whole summer to work on this and a summer trip to Spain along with the regular preseason, look for Huggins to be able to re-establish the defensive dominance he is looking for in the next season.