Last season West Virginia finished with an overall record of 17-16 and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. One of the biggest issues for Bob Huggins’ team last season was their work on the defensive end of the floor, as they ranked dead last in field goal percentage defense, seventh in three-point percentage defense and seventh in defensive rebounding percentage.
Even with the return of one of the nation’s best point guards in Juwan Staten, improvement in those areas is a must if West Virginia is to not only end its NCAA tournament dry spell but also compete with the best programs in the Big 12. If this weekend in Puerto Rico is any indication of the progress made in Morgantown, it’s safe to say that West Virginia is headed in the right direction.
Sunday night the Mountaineers took control of the tempo in their Puerto Rico Tipoff title game matchup with No. 17 UConn, using full-court pressure to force the defending national champions into turning the ball over on numerous occasions. West Virginia led by 15 at the half, and they’d go on to win by the final score of 78-68. Staten scored 21 points to lead the way offensively, and defensively the Mountaineers pestered UConn into 19 turnovers.
Something else that didn’t do UConn any favors was their perimeter shooting, as they made just three of seventeen attempts from beyond the arc. The combination of turnovers and poor shooting resulted in a hole that was too deep for UConn to climb out of, as they could get no closer than six points in the second half.
Another player whose impact should be mentioned is forward Jonathan Holton, who accounted for 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and a team-best three steals. Holton caused UConn trouble with his length and athleticism at the head of the WVU pressure, and while he may not have racked up all 11 of the team’s steals he played a part in some of the wayward cross-court passes UConn attempted to throw. Overall West Virginia has better depth than they’ve had the last couple of years, but more importantly they’re tougher and more committed as well.
The end result on this November night was an in-season tournament title. The question now is whether or not the Mountaineers can build on their productive weekend in Puerto Rico.