West Virginia has become a perennial top-25 threat over the last several years. This season’s roster will have major question marks in the backcourt after four-year players like Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. moved on to the NBA.
Carter and Miles helped morph the Mountaineers into “Press Virginia” as head coach Bob Huggins used the two guards to create havoc for other teams. Now that Carter and Miles are gone, it creates the intriguing future of West Virginia’s future backcourt.
The West Virginia Gazette Mail’s Mitch Vingle detailed some of the Mountaineers’ roster dilemmas in speaking with Huggins earlier this week. The Mountaineers should have its interior and frontcourt in place as Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris are all returning starters. Lamont West also started the first half of last season while Ahmad was sitting out a suspension as he provides another talented option on the wing.
But West Virginia’s backcourt has health question marks and a lot of newcomers they are working with right now. Carter said last season that Brandon Knapper was the hardest guy he played against. But Knapper is trying to return from a pulmonary episode. Reserve guard Beetle Bolden is also dealing with a high ankle sprain that has limited him this summer in workouts.
That leaves newcomers like Trey Doomes, Jermaine Haley, Emmitt Matthews and Jordan McCabe to compete with reserve guard Chase Harler for spots in the starting lineup and the rotation. West Virginia might have lost its two leading scorers from last season, but they might be a deeper team in the next few seasons because of some talented recruiting classes entering the mix. It gives the Huggins press additional athleticism and reinforcements.
“I kind of want to see guys play,” Huggins said to Vingle. “I want to see what they can do, what their strengths are… I mean, obviously we know about the returning guys. But it’s a whole lot different watching guys on the AAU circuit or in a junior college game to what goes on here. They’ll find that out certainly.”
Sounds like West Virginia’s new backcourt is a pretty open competition right now as Huggins tries to see if anyone steps up while Knapper and Bolden are limited or out.
There are few better matches between coach and school than Bob Huggins and West Virginia. The Morgantown native and West Virginia alum pretty much embodies the Mountaineers.
West Virginia announced Monday that it had reached an agreement that would allow Huggins to continue to coach beyond the 2021-22 season or step away into another role at the university.
“This is a great day for our department. I want Bob Huggins leading our basketball program for many years to come,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said. “Bob is a future Hall of Famer, who cares about his players and this University. His teams have been highly successful on the court and in the classroom. In finalizing this contract extension, I wanted the eighth all-time and third-winningest active Division I coach on our sideline leading his alma mater.”
Huggins’ deal would allow him to keep coaching once his deal expires in 2022 or assume a five-year Emeritus status which would pay him $550,000 in its first year. He’s set to make $3.75 million this year as coach and will receive $100,00 annual raises.
Huggins, in his 11th year at West Virginia, has won 229 games with the Mountaineers and gone to eight NCAA tournaments, making the 2010 Final Four. He’s won 819 games overall over 35 years as a coach. The program has been revitalized in recent years as well as Huggins as transitioned them to the “Press Virginia” style of full-court pressing that has helped the Mountaineers to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Big 12.
West Virginia, led by potential Big 12 player of the year candidate Carter, are expected to challenge Kansas for the top spot in the conference this season.
“I am very lucky to be able to coach in the state and at the University that I love so much,” Huggins said in a statement.
Bob Huggins became the just the 10th person to win 800 games at the Division I level on Saturday, and he did it in the typical manner of his West Virginia teams: Press, Press, Press.
The No. 12 Mountaineers forced 27 turnovers in a 112-67 win over UMKC. ‘Press Virginia’ is a machine these days, one that can’t even be slowed down by a team losing their two best scorers, best rebounder and most versatile defender to graduation.
This program that Huggs is overseeing these days is the most unlikely development in a career that never seemed like a given. Huggs has won 800 games despite spending the majority of his career viewed as something of a black sheep by those outside the coaching business, and he did it at these schools: Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and now West Virginia.
Those aren’t exactly blue-bloods in the sport.
So the fact that he’s had this much success, period, is something of an upset.
But what makes joining this club – which also includes Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Jim Phelan, Eddie Sutton and Rollie Massimino — so incredible is that Huggins is winning at West Virginia after totally overhauling his style of play. He’s coaching ‘Press Virginia’ now, but he was never a pressing coach before he returned to Morgantown.
So how did that happen?
Below you’ll find the story we published on that very subject last November.
A SHIFT IN PHILOSOPHY LED BOB HUGGINS TO BUILD ‘PRESS VIRGINIA’
by Raphielle Johnson Published: 11/5/15
Nothing motivates change in sports more than losing.
After struggling in their first two seasons as a member of the Big 12, West Virginia underwent a change that represented quite the departure from their head coach’s usual defensive approach, because that head coach was not accustomed to losing.
In Bob Huggins’ first five seasons at his alma mater, West Virginia won an average of 24 games. The 2010 team won 31, reaching the program’s first Final Four since 1959.
To get an idea of just how long ago that was, Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba in 1959. The Mountaineers went five full decades without seeing a Final Four before the 6-foot-8 West Virginian showed up. Huggins always seems to have a negative connotation thanks to bad boy brand he built around his powerhouse Cincinnati program in the 90’s and early 00’s, but understand this: the man has won 765 games in his career. That didn’t happen by accident. He can coach.
But things changed upon the Mountaineers’ arrival in the Big 12 in 2013. They won just 13 games in their debut season and 17 the following year. While there were some close defeats during those two seasons, the common theme was that the Mountaineers didn’t defend with the aggressiveness many had come to expect from Huggins-coached teams. Part of that was having to adjust their personnel to fit their new conference home.
“(The Big 12) was a different style of play,” Huggins said, “more of a ‘play off the bounce’ kind of league.”
But the main thing was that in those two seasons, the Mountaineers could not get the stops they needed to close out games. And that was a departure from what many are used to seeing from Huggins-coached teams.
“If you know Coach Huggins and his philosophy, he’s always been a ‘defense-first’ coach and prides himself on his teams playing very good team defense,” WVU associate head coach Larry Harrison, who’s been a member of Huggins’ staffs for 17 years at both WVU and Cincinnati, said. “Those two years where we had the losing season and then went to the NIT, it got to a point where when we needed a stop we just didn’t do it as a team and we didn’t have one individual we felt we could depend on defensively to get that stop.”
Last year’s group got back to those defensive principles, only in a slightly different manner: their use of tenacious, full-court pressure that forced turnovers on a nation’s best 28 percent of their opponents’ possessions.
And while the Mountaineers’ effective field goal percentage defense (52.7 percent) was worse than the numbers produced the previous two seasons, that was actually by design. The goal of this new defense, of this press, was to raise hell, take risks and force turnovers that led to layups and open jumpers in transition; easy points that come before defenses get set. When an opposing backcourt was able to beat the press — when West Virginia’s gambling defense didn’t pay off — they got better looks at the rim, only they got less of them.
The end result: 25 wins, a Sweet 16 appearance, and a new identity.
“Press Virginia” was born.
* * *
While attributes such as athleticism, length and quickness get mentioned when discussing pressure defense, the most important key has little to do with physical ability. The key for any successful pressure defense is that the team buy into the concept; that no matter what everyone is on board with the system and won’t abandon ship at the first sign of tumult.
“I thought we needed to change the style that we played,” Huggins said. “I spent time with Kevin Mackey, who I thought did the best job of anybody at the college level with pressure defense. I thought our guys embraced it, and that was probably as key as anything. They really did embrace that style of play.”
Mackey, whose been in basketball for more than four decades, made note of in his conversations with his longtime friend before the start of last season. Now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, Mackey used pressure defense to take 14th-seeded Cleveland State to the Sweet 16 in 1986. And in his view West Virginia’s personnel and the current status of the college game lent itself to the Mountaineers being able to successfully utilize pressure defense. But none of that would have mattered had the head coach not bought into the change himself.
“A number of people told me he won 13 games more than he should have last season,” Mackey noted. “Kids who should have won 13 or 14 games won 25, went to the Sweet 16. In my own opinion Bob’s a hall of fame coach, he’s a great defensive coach. He had the fundamentals down cold 35 years ago, and it was a matter of his adjusting his thinking to go to the full-court (pressure) all the time.”
Just as important as the mindset was the personnel, something West Virginia didn’t have in their first two seasons in the Big 12. Having the pieces needed to be more aggressive defensively allowed the coaching staff to move forward with its plan, with the hope that the defensive intensity would return as a trademark of the program.
“I was with him at Cincinnati in the 90s when we did press quite a bit, more three-quarter court, a lot of 2-1-2 pressure rather than the full-court that we’re doing now,” Harrison said. “Since we’ve been at West Virginia we’ve been trying to get back to that point, we just didn’t feel like we had the personnel to do that.”
“Going into last season with the number of guards we had, we felt we’d be really competitive. And the depth we had, we felt that this was the time because they all wanted to play. That’s the thing that (Huggins) told the guys. ‘If you want to play, then I need all you guys to play as hard as you can for as long as you can and then we can rotate you in and out and then everybody will play.’ But you have to buy in.”
That buy-in is key not only for the beginnings of a new system, but also throughout the course of a season. Turning into a high-level pressure defensive team doesn’t happen overnight.
“The kids can tell if you’re really committed to it,” Mackey continued. “Bobby committed to it. When you first start to teach [a press], it’s a fourth grade press and that’s the best it is. And then after a week it’s a sixth grade press, and after three weeks it’s a high school press.”
“I saw them at the beginning of the season against LSU, which was really gifted physically and had a couple NBA guys, and West Virginia lost by one. I told Bobby it’s a high school press. I then saw him in December at Madison Square Garden against NC State and he had a big-time college press.”
Perhaps most important, however, is actually winning. It’s true with any style, really, but it is particularly important when trying to instill a new style of play into a program. Winning is what the kids and the coaches — hell, everyone that’s involved with or supporting the program — care about. When a team is stacking Ws, the players start to realize: ‘Hey, maybe coach knows what he’s talking about.’
West Virginia won 14 of their first 15 games to start the 2014-15 season, the lone defeat being that one point loss to LSU. It was clear that West Virginia was taking to its new defensive style. One of those watershed moments came in West Virginia’s win over UConn in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff, as they harassed the Huskies into committing 19 turnovers on the night.
And while UConn may not have finished the season as an elite team, that program has an elite name and an elite brand. They were the reigning national champions, after all. Beating them gave the Mountaineers an early indication that this new system could be successful.
“The UConn game gave us some credibility as a team, and also made the players feel much better about what we were doing,” Harrison noted. “You beat the defending national champs, and you do it by playing our style. One of the really big keys is that they would get up, then we would get up, and the players started to see the effect that our style of play was having on our opponents.”
Ten players averaged at least 12.9 minutes per game last season, with guard Juwan Staten (31.2 mpg) leading the way while also pacing the Mountaineers in scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg). Forwards Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton, with the latter playing at the head of the WVU press, were among the key contributors as well, and the team’s depth and activity helped them mask deficiencies in other areas.
The most notable issue for this group was their lack of quality shooters. They shot 40.8 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three, finishing the year with an effective field goal percentage of 46.1 percent. Their shooters are more streaky than prolific, and that bore itself out in the percentage numbers West Virginia put up last season. But even with those low percentages West Virginia still managed to finish 45th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
Because they were one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams, grabbing more than 40 percent of their own misses. The Mountaineers attempted 512 more shots from the field than their opponents.
Quantity over quality.
“They have guys like Jevon Carter, (Jaysean) Paige, among others, who can certainly heat up and make shots. But the end result of this style is they create more turnovers and more offensive rebounds,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “The fact that they get way more field goal attempts than their opponents, it makes up for the very streaky shooting. I always say, ‘you have to create an offense with a missed shot in mind,’ because even if you shoot 45 percent from the field 55 percent of the shots are coming off as misses.”
“Their offense is designed with the missed shot in mind. In other words, they’re not worried about making or missing jump shots,” Fraschilla continued. “If they go in, great; if guys heat up, great. But they’re also very cognizant of the fact that a missed shot [can be] a pass to Jonathan Holton or Devin Williams or Elijah Macon. That’s how they look at it. You can analyze [the shooting] until the cows come home, but the fact is they get way more field goal attempts than their opponents.”
“They make up for their lack of shooting with their effort both offensively and defensively.”
This season, eight of West Virginia’s top ten players in minutes return; Staten and fellow guard Gary Browne being the departures. Add in a four-member recruiting class that includes four-star forward Esa Ahmad, and the Mountaineers have the experience, depth and talent needed to pick up where they left off a season ago.
“This year that mindset is already there, whereas last year we had to develop it. We had to convince the guys that this was the way we were going to play,” Harrison said. “Now, when our guys are in individual workouts or even in open gym, they’re trapping and picking up full court. It’s kind of like, ‘this is the way it is, you’re at West Virginia, you’re playing for Bob Huggins and this is the way we play.’ It’s caught on, and the new guys are getting used to it as well.”
There are adjustments to be made, however, especially with the renewed emphasis on physical play in college basketball. West Virginia committed more fouls than any team in the country a season ago — 821 to be exact, or 23.5 fouls per game. While there are risks to be taken in the type of defensive system West Virginia employs, they can’t afford to send opponents to the line at a similar clip even with the depth that they enjoy.
And then there’s the need to account for the loss of Staten. While he was the team leader in points and assists, Staten also provided the Mountaineers with a security blanket of sorts down the stretch. With the game in the balance they had a finisher, someone who more times than not made the play that needed to be made. And after going through two seasons in which they struggled to close out games on both ends of the floor, that’s a big deal.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be finishing games,” Huggins said when asked about how they’d account for the loss of Staten. “He was virtually impossible to trap, he didn’t turn the ball over, and for the most part he made free throws. So there was a guy who you could always put the ball in his hands and trust him with the ball.”
But thanks to their experience, West Virginia does have options capable of assuming that role, namely Jevon Carter.
“He has really embraced that position,” Huggins said. “I think he wants the ball.”
For all of the different areas from which coaches look to extract some kind of motivation, there’s no greater catalyst for change than losing. After two seasons of struggling in the Big 12 West Virginia was faced with a choice: either adapt or continue to languish on the periphery of their new conference. Huggins and his staff adapted, embracing an approach that was a departure from what he’s done in the past.
The move paid off.
“Press Virginia” is here to stay.
No. 9 West Virginia rolls to 86-66 win over TCU in Big 12s
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Devin Williams had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead a balanced West Virginia attack, and the ninth-ranked Mountaineers never trailed in an 86-66 victory over TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament Thursday night.
The plucky Horned Frogs gave them a tussle most of the way, though.
They trailed just 63-55 midway through the second half before a spree of 3-pointers allowed the second-seeded Mountaineers (25-7) to seize control. They pulled away in the final minutes to give coach Bob Huggins his first victory in the Big 12 Tournament since taking over his alma mater.
Jevon Carter added 15 points, Tarik Phillip had 13 and Jaysean Paige scored 12 as West Virginia moved on to the semifinals Friday against the winner of No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 21 Iowa State.
Chauncey Collins had 18 points to lead the No. 10 seed Horned Frogs (12-21), who bumped off NCAA Tournament bubble team Texas Tech in the opening round. Malique Trent added 15 points and J.D. Miller had 12.
The game amounted to a contrast in styles: West Virginia tried to play fast, TCU tried to play slow.
Early on, it was the Mountaineers who had the most success. They got hot from beyond the arc, racing to a 20-8 lead, and used all those made shots to slap on their exasperating pressure defense.
TCU did a solid job most of the game of breaking it.
The Mountaineers eventually fell into an offensive lull, and that allowed coach Trent Johnson’s team to claw back into the game. The Horned Frogs got within 29-23 late in the first half, then cut the lead to single digits again on a dunk by Miller that made it 56-47 with 14 1/2 minutes left in the game.
It took the Mountaineers heating up from the arc again to pull away.
It was 63-55 when Daxter Miles Jr. connected from right in front of West Virginia’s bench. Paige knocked down his second of the game moments later, and Miles buried another to make it 72-59 with 6:34 to go.
The Mountaineers drew away from there to wrap up their fifth consecutive win.
TCU: Brandon Parrish was held to two points on 0-for-5 shooting. … Johnson fell to 0-9 in his career against West Virginia. … The Horned Frogs shot just 35 percent from the field.
West Virginia: Huggins improved to 12-0 against the Horned Frogs. … The Mountaineers finished 11 of 24 from beyond the arc. … Won despite committing 17 turnovers.
TCU begins preparing for next season.
No. 3 Oklahoma bounces back, wins at No. 10 West Virginia
Senior guard Buddy Hield receives many of the headlines for No. 3 Oklahoma and rightfully so, as the explosive scorer has been one of the nation’s best players this season. Add in fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, and the Sooners have one of the best backcourt rotations in America. However this is more than just a jump-shooting team, and they’re more than a three-player unit as well.
That was all on display Saturday as the Sooners beat No. 10 West Virginia 76-62 in Morgantown. Hield scored a game-high 29 points, but the Sooners’ ability to rebound and take care of the basketball proved to be just as important against “Press Virginia.”
Oklahoma won the battle on the boards, rebounding 45 percent of their available missed shots. There wasn’t a huge edge in second-chance points (16-15 OU), but having to defend for longer stretches had an impact on West Virginia on the offensive end. West Virginia shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 7-for-21 from three, and after Jaysean Paige tied the game at 52 with 7:49 remaining the Mountaineers made just three of their final ten shot attempts.
Oklahoma found its second wind during that decisive stretch, with Hield getting going and Khadeem Lattin making some key contributions himself.
Lattin isn’t much of a scorer, and he doesn’t have to be given the weapons on that roster. But Oklahoma needs him to be a factor as a rebounder and defender if they’re to play deep into March, and that was the case against a West Virginia frontline led by Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton. Lattin finished the game with nine points, 13 rebounds (six offensive) and six blocked shots, falling one point short of his first double-double since a win over Kansas State in early January.
Ryan Spangler (eight points, six rebounds) was relatively quiet for most of Saturday’s game, but Lattin’s play more than made up for it and helped Oklahoma control the action in the paint.
The other key for the Sooners was their value of the basketball. In the first meeting Oklahoma turned the ball over 18 times in a game they won in the final seconds. Saturday, Oklahoma committed just nine turnovers, taking away an area in which West Virginia has managed to account for subpar shooting on many occasions since going to their pressure defense. Without those open-floor opportunities, West Virginia was forced to look to establish its offense in the half-court for most of the game.
And with Oklahoma being a team that looks to force opponents into making challenged shots as opposed turning them over, the Mountaineers found themselves in trouble during the game’s most important stage.
Oklahoma got its offense going during that period, making six of its final ten shots from the field and outscoring WVU 24-10 over the final 7:49. But getting out of Morgantown with the win would have proven far more difficult had Oklahoma not taken care of business defensively and on the glass.
Ellis, Lucas lead No. 6 Kansas past No. 10 West Virginia
In the first meeting between No. 10 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas, the Mountaineers dominated in their 74-63 win in Morgantown. Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” attack forced 22 Kansas turnovers, with the Jayhawks playing far too fast and loose with the basketball while also getting out-toughed by the Mountaineers. In the rematch Kansas (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) looked far better equipped to deal with West Virginia in both of those areas, winning by the final score of 75-65.
Kansas committed 15 turnovers, with Devonte’ Graham responsible for five of them, but they did not allow West Virginia (19-4, 8-3) to use those chances to kickstart their offense. The Mountaineers scored 13 points (one fewer than Kansas, which took advantage of ten WVU miscues) off of those turnovers and did not register a single fast break points. Having to play in the half-court more than they would have liked, West Virginia could not execute at the level they did in beating Baylor Saturday.
As a result Bob Huggins’ team shot 37.3 percent from the field and 5-for-20 from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers have shown signs of being able to win games in which they don’t force a high turnover count, but that wasn’t the case at Allen Fieldhouse.
If not for West Virginia grabbing better than 34 percent of their misses and scoring 14 second-chance points, the margin is likely even greater than the ten-point outcome due to the contract in offensive execution. Kansas pushed the ball early, getting out to an 8-0 lead, and as the game wore on the Jayhawks were much better in finding quality shot opportunities. Bill Self’s team shot 56.1 percent from the field with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points to lead five Jayhawks in double figures.
The tandem of Ellis and Landen Lucas, who grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and blocked four shots to go along with his nine points, won the battle against a WVU front court missing the suspended Jonathan Holton. Devin Williams, who went for 17 and 12 in the first meeting, finished the rematch with a respectable 14-point, nine-rebound effort but he didn’t get much help in the post from the likes of Elijah Macon and Nathan Adrian.
After having Self question their toughness in a home win over Kansas State six days ago, the Jayhawks have responded with wins over TCU and West Virginia. Obviously it’s tough to read too much into beating the Horned Frogs, because even with that game being in Fort Worth it’s one Kansas was expected to handle with ease. The Mountaineers posed a different, and far more rigorous test, and Kansas got the job done.
As a result the Jayhawks have brought West Virginia back to the pack in the Big 12 title race, making Saturday’s game at No. 3 Oklahoma even bigger than it already was.