Personnel Dictating WVU Basketball Late Season Approach

Personnel Dictating WVU Basketball Late Season Approach


In trying to fix what he called “the worst defensive team I have ever had,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has tried multiple defensive schemes during the 2018-19 season. From its signature full court press, to half court varieties, to 1-3-1, 2-3, 3-2 and 1-2-2 zones, as well as some more exotic hybrid looks, Huggins has pulled out all the stops to find a way to hide some of the Mountaineer’s defensive deficiencies.

West Virginia forward Derek Culver closes down the point at the top of the 3-2 zone

None have been successful over the long term, so Huggins is planning to return to a focus on one or two of those – although he wouldn’t reveal which – as the team prepares for Saturday’s trip to Baylor.

“I think that is what we are going to do,” he said. “We had a good practice yesterday, and we anticipate a couple more before going to Waco.”

At one point during a recent game, a former WVU player tweeted that he couldn’t even figure out what defense the Mountaineers were playing. Granted, that was a one-off observation, but it does serve as an indicator of just how discombobulated West Virginia has been in trying to find a defensive scheme that it can execute consistently.

To be fair, at good percentage of the problems stem from West Virginia’s personnel issues. The absence of hard-nosed guard Beetle Bolden and rim protector Sagaba Konate has had a major impact on the downturn. The dismissal of Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris, the latter of which was good defensively, has also contributed. However, laying all of the blame there would not be accurate, as WVU’s defense has trouble defending drivers and recovering against perimeter shooters across the board.

“It’s a personnel thing,” Huggins elaborated a bit when discussing the process of trying to find defensive tactics to work on. “We’re still trying to determine who can do what.”

That issue isn’t new, however, and if it hasn’t been solved now, it’s not likely to in the remaining five regular season games. Bolden, who graduated from a full boot to a hard-sided splint on his injured ankle in the past week, isn’t likely to play against the Bears, and Konate’s status remains as impenetrable as the interior of the Amazon River Basin.

“He’s still banged up,” Huggins said of Bolden, following a simple “No,” when asked if he could play this weekend.

“Our mindset is we need to win some games,” Huggins said of the rapidly dwindling chances to do just that. “We have to have some guys step up. I think our guys are learning. We played well (on Monday night) until the 14-0 run K-State put on us.”

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WVU alums routinely use the Mountaineer practice facility to help hone their games for their pro stints, but Huggins noted most of them are off playing around the globe. That limits any chances of them helping current players in any capacity. Former guard Truck Bryant has been in town, as Jevon Carter was over the weekend during the NBA All-Star break, but there was no word on lessons being passed on from those accomplished performers.

“Nate Adrian has been around. He’s tried to help some guys,” Huggins said. “But most of our guys are off playing somewhere.”

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With more departures anticipated in the offseason, West Virginia has continued to recruit players, notably in the junior college ranks, in the Class of 2019. With holes across the board, West Virginia needs to shore up both its shooting and on-ball defense.

“We would like to have people who can do both. That’s the goal.” Huggins said.

At this point, such prospects are in short supply, but some of the jucos the Mountaineers have offered recently do have impressive shooting credentials, hitting more than 50 percent of their tries this year. Learn more about them and their offers on our premium message board.

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