In past seasons, the “Press Virginia” mantra has been a reflection of a philosophy that scrappy defense can generate easy baskets and better offense, but as WVU hoops nears the start of a new season, head coach Bob Huggins thinks a different formula could lead to success.
For the first time in recent memory, Huggins said it’s West Virginia’s offense — and not its trademarked pressure defense — that will make the Mountaineers unique this season.
“We actually make shots,” Huggins said. “We don’t have to rely on getting two and three shots a possession, and we don’t really have to rely as much on creating turnovers.”
With practices officially beginning Friday, West Virginia’s roster is filled with players Huggins refers to as “capable shotmakers.”
Some of those players are returners, like senior guard Jermaine Haley, who made more than 51 percent of his field goals last season. Others are newcomers, like transfer guard Sean McNeil, a sophomore who averaged nearly 30 points per game last season at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.
Sophomores Jordan McCabe and Emmitt Matthews also fall under that category of capable shooters, and each of those players share something in common: they can hit shots from all over the floor.
“I just think we have more guys capable of making perimeter shots, particularly open shots, and I think with hopefully the firepower we’re gonna have inside, it’s gonna create some more open shots on the perimeter,” Huggins said.
So what does that mean for West Virginia on defense? Huggins said the Mountaineers will still be multiple defensively — and they have to be, he said, to compete with the best teams in the Big 12.
“You can’t let them come down every time and be in the same thing,” Huggins said. “You gotta keep them off balance. So we’re gonna try to do that.”
Huggins doesn’t yet know what defensive formula will work best, but that’s typical of a team with so many new faces. The head coach noted that when former WVU stars Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. were freshmen, Huggins didn’t have much confidence in that team’s defense at first.
The ending to that story is well known: Carter developed into one of the best defenders in the nation, and Miles finished second on the team in steals behind the future NBA draft pick as a senior.
West Virginia’s offense may be a few steps ahead of its defense right now, but that’s not a concern to Huggins.
“We don’t guard anybody, but we will,” Huggins said. “We’re athletic enough, and I think they’re basketball savvy enough. We’ll be able to guard people.”