What’s Wrong With WVU Men’s Basketball?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Defense isn't fun nor pretty. Defense doesn't grab media headlines. However, defense wins basketball games. It wins championships. It is no coincidence that WVU’s basketball success and its defensive prowess (or lack thereof) are intricately connected. Read on and give your opinion.

Bob Huggins' team sits at 15-12 with four games remaining in the regular season.  While offensive improvement has been evident over last season's 13-19 squad, the 2013-14 Mountaineers have not played the hard nose brand of defense that defines a Huggins team.  Here's what the future Hall of Fame coach said in his post-game press conference following the loss to Baylor on Saturday:

  • "We didn't stop them at all. You can't let them [Baylor] go down and score at will, which we did."
  • "I've never had a group that was worse defensively than what we are."

Here are some statistics that back up Huggins' assertions:

Nationally (out of 345 division one teams), WVU ranks

  • 244th in scoring defense
  • 201st in field goal percentage defense
  • 223rd in rebounding margin
  • 224th in blocked shots per game

In Big 12 play (ten teams), defense has been a glaring weakness:

  • WVU is last in scoring defense, allowing 79 points per game
  • WVU is last in field goal percentage defense, allowing 48% per game
  • WVU is eighth in rebounding, garnering only 33 per game
  • WVU is ninth in rebounding margin, allowing opponents 4 more boards per game

The following statistical breakdown further demonstrates WVU's lack of defense.  Points in the paint, rebounds, and points off turnovers are presented here.  The first number is WVU's points or rebounds, the second number is the opponent's points or rebounds.

Non-Conference Wins

Opponent

Points in the paint

Rebounds

Points off turnovers

Mt Saint Marys

26-30

28-30

12-2

Duquesne

32-43

30-39

31-10

Georgia Southern

34-32

46.36

28-7

Presbyterian

20-14

40-28

18-14

Old Dominion

26-30

28-35

19-11

Loyola

30-20

62-22

21-8

Marshall

36-34

38-35

11-13

William & Mary

37-14

47-31

15-6

Non-Conference Losses

Opponent

Points in the paint

Rebounds

Points off turnovers

at Virginia Tech

22-35

43-43

24-8

Wisconsin

12-18

27-37

12-9

at Missouri

38-36

32-40

10-13

Gonzaga

16-34

36-43

13-4

Purdue

28-28

38-45

6-8

The non-conference schedule demonstrates how poorly WVU's front line has faired.  Teams like Mt Saint Marys, Duquesne, and Old Dominion both out rebounded and scored more points in the paint than WVU.  In West Virginia's five non-conference losses, WVU lost the points in the paint battle three times.  The Mountaineers lost the rebound battle four times.

The one promising aspect of WVU's defense has been the number of turnovers it was creating.  WVU leads the Big 12 in turnovers per game and turnover margin.  The Mountaineers are ranked 10th and 14th nationally in turnovers per game and turnover margin.  As seen above, points off turnovers helped WVU stay in every game that it lost.  WVU was competitive in every non-conference game that it played, despite an 8-5 record.

Mountaineer fans, particularly me, overlooked how bad this team has been defensively.  That tends to happen when WVU scores almost 80 points per game, shoots the three really well and has high octane scorers like Juwan Staten, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson.

Big 12 conference play has further exposed the Mountaineers defense.  Again, points in the paint, rebounds, and points off turnovers are presented here.

Conference Wins

Opponent

Points in the paint

Rebounds

Points off turnovers

at TCU

30-26

30-38

16-5

at Texas Tech

40-34

26-35

17-6

Texas Tech

28-22

29-26

13-11

at Baylor

28-14

27-37

18-0

Kansas State

26-48

33-36

20-10

Oklahoma

20-34

46-44

12-6

Iowa State

34-42

34-44

19-12

average

29-31

32-37

16-7

In seven conference wins, WVU faired okay in the paint.  WVU won the points in the paint battle four times, allowing only Kansas State and Oklahoma to truly dominate this stat.  However, WVU only won the rebound battle twice.  The Mountaineer's average rebounding margin was -5.  WVU won the points off turnovers statistic in all seven victories, averaging nine more points per game than their opponents.

Conference Losses

Opponent

Points in the paint

Rebounds

Points off turnovers

Oklahoma State

14-26

38-35

9-18

Texas

30-34

30-49

16-6

at Kansas State

14-28

33-32

12-14

at Oklahoma State

12-32

41-36

14-23

at Kansas

18-46

28-37

13-22

at Texas

14-46

26-41

15-13

Baylor

12-38

31-34

8-6

average

16-36

32-38

12-15

In WVU's seven losses, three stats really show how bad the Mountaineers have played.  First, the Mountaineers have gotten slaughtered in the paint.  Opponents have devised ways to slow down the Mountaineer guards' ability to drive to the basket, while putting on their own layup and dunk clinics.  WVU decisively lost the points in the paint battle six out of seven times.  Second, WVU has lost the points off turnovers statistic four out of seven times.  The margin in this category went from +9 in WVU's seven victories to -3 in WVU's seven losses.  Finally, it is interesting to note that the rebound statistics remain virtually the same.  WVU pulls down 32 rebounds per game and gives up between 37 and 38 rebounds per game.

Bob Huggins has consistently preached solid defensive philosophies and hard work throughout his career.  He has taken two hard-nosed, defensive minded teams to the Final Four, the latest being the 2009-10 WVU team.  It is no coincidence that WVU's basketball success and its defensive prowess (or lack thereof) are intricately connected.  Here are WVU's defensive statistics and final results from the last five seasons:

Year

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

Scoring Defense

53rd

79th

160th

209th

244th

FG% Defense

91st

62nd

252nd

259th

201st

Rebound Margin

11th

70th

13th

137th

223rd

Turnovers Created

43rd

51st

113th

157th

10th

Record

31-7

21-12

19-14

13-19

15-12

Result

NCAA Final Four

NCAA 3rd Round

NCAA 2nd Round

n/a

???

Defense wins games and championships.  The 2009-10 WVU team that won the Big East Conference tournament and that went to the Final Four was grounded in defensive effort.  That year's Mountaineers were average in every leading offensive category.  Out of 334 teams, WVU was:

  • 93rd in scoring offense
  • 194th in field goal percentage
  • 178th in three point field goal percentage
  • 119th in free throw percentage

Consider the following defensive statistics for the last four NCAA national champions:

Year

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

Team

Duke

Connecticut

Kentucky

Louisville

Scoring Defense

28th

84th

25th

21st

FG% Defense

39th

11th

1st

37th

Rebound Margin

14th

39th

12th

66th

Turnover Margin

24th

162nd

166th

3rd

Defense is all about studying film, learning opponents' tendencies, applying zone and man-to-man principles, and then putting forth effort on every possession.  When Bob Huggins' team buys into these concepts, WVU men's basketball will return to national prominence.

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