Head Coach Bob Huggins has won 719 games in Division 1 play. He has coached at Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia. He has taken two different teams to the Final Four (the Bearcats in 1992 and the Mountaineers in 2010) but has never won a National Championship. That goal eluded him once again this year with the first round loss to Stephen F. Austin. SFA avoided the turnovers that are a hallmark of the Mountaineers' "Press" Virginia defense which kept the Mountaineers off-balance. Without the turnovers and a cold shooting night from the WVU scorers', the Mountaineers could not set-up their legendary pressing defense. The question has to be asked, "Is it time to abandon the press?"
- West Virginia has led the nation in steals in consecutive years
- West Virginia has been top two in turnovers generated in consecutive years.
- West Virginia has been a top-50 scoring defense in consecutive years.
- West Virginia has made the NCAA tournament in consecutive years and finally won a Big 12 tournament game.
The full-court press employed by the Mountaineers is a beautiful thing to watch when it works. The steals come in bunches. On average, West Virginia generated almost 10 steals per game over the past two years. Not only do the steals come in bunches but the Mountaineers also generate turnovers at a top rate. WVU has generated nearly 18 turnovers per game since 2014. Those turnover statistics are a great reason why the Mountaineers would want to keep the press. It creates 18 possessions a game where the opponent will not score. Isn't that the goal of any defense, to stop the other team from scoring?
Not only has WVU been able to generate turnovers and limit the other teams, generally, from scoring, but they finally won a Big 12 Tournament game. The 2015-2016 version of the Mountaineers beat both TCU and the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 tournament, surviving a oh-so-close Buddy Hield half-court heave. The suffocating defense the Mountaineers employed shut down the two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, limiting him to 1-8 field goal attempts and 6 points.
- When WVU doesn't generate turnovers, they lose
- When beaten, the defense gives up easy transition scores
- WVU can quickly get itself into foul trouble, sending valuable players to the bench.
The great thing about sports is there is no one single system that works without fail. A man-to-man defense can be exploited by a quick guard or top scorer. The zone defenses can give up too many wide open three-point shots and allow more offensive rebounds. The full-court press is no different. Athletic teams are able to throw over the press or dribble and pass around the half-court traps. When teams quickly and efficiently pass the ball, a player is left open for an uncontested layup or 3-point attempt.
One of the other issues that pressing teams face is foul trouble. WVU was 346 out of 351 teams in fouls per game. In 2014, West Virginia was called for the most personal fouls per game at 23.5. What this leads to is Mountaineer opponents attempting 26 free throws a game. 26 times a game an opponent is given the opportunity to score free points. Despite "cleaning up their act" so to speak, the Mountaineers still found themselves one of the most penalized teams in the country. In the 70-68 loss to Oklahoma in Morgantown, the Sooners attempted an incredible 32 free throws. In the Big 12 Championships game against Kansas, the Jayhawks shot 25 free throws and in the first round loss to SF Austin, Thomas Walkup shot 20 free throws and the Lumberjacks shot 39 as a team.
If Bob Huggins has decided that the full-court "Press" Virginia is here to stay, it might be wise for the team to find a second and third defensive strategy. At times Huggins has employed a 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone. Other times, Huggins has backed the press off and employed a four-man press, electing to not guard the in-bound man. Both of these strategies have worked within reason and it should be explored more, especially when refs are calling games tighter against the Mountaineers.