Huggins Wants A Return Of Press Virginia

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins argues a call
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins argues a call

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.

West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (1) is fouled on a drive
West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (1)

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.

The result?

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.


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    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
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    Last year we did have Carter and Sags.  Those are the two pieces we didn’t have this year and it showed.

    But…… This year we do have two guys that may be much better rounded players than Sags.  Carter is hard to replace, but think about this.  Carter wasn’t nearly the D player as a FR as he was as a SR.  His development was tremendous year over year to get him to D POY status.  We’ll see McCabe and McBride make improvements year over year.  May not be to the height of Carter, but we should see definite improvements.

    Interesting that nothing is ever said about Dax’s contribution to the press.  IMO his tenacity was just as good as JC’s.  His D is what earned him a starting job from day 1 as a True FR.


    Agreed that JC worked hard and improved his game across the board all four years. Remember, though, that he wa son the league all-defensive team all four years of his college career. He might not have been quite as disruptive and savvy that first year, but he was still miles better than anyone else at that stage.

    I don’t mean to live in the past, or run down anyone’s chances to improve. But his was on a level that very few players in history achieved defenisvely in college. To me, only Mookie Blaylock approaches what he did defensively. He was and is impossible to replace. You just hope that guys can improve some year to year, as you say.

    Would like to hear more on your thoughts of two guys who may be much better rounded that Sags. Culver is nowhere near him defensively. OT might be, and I think he can provde some shotblocking, but Sags was as rare in that area as Carter was in disrupting ball handlers. WVU could commit four to the press, double and jump passing lanes, because they knew Sags was in the back ready to erase shots. After a while, teams didn’t even challenge him. Can OT do that right off the bat? I hope so, but man, Sags was special in that area of play.

    Maybe I’m overcooking him, but I though Sags improved his offensive game tremendously during both of his WVU offseasons. I think we’d have seen that continue last year.  Again, I’m not saying that Culver and OT can’t improve their offensive games too, but I think they have a good bit of work to do to match Sags’ touch out to 15-17 feet, and even to the 3-line.

    Agree with you on Miles, BTW.





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