WVU hampers the Hokies
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The day before West Virginia was to host unbeaten Virginia Tech, Bob Huggins seemed mildly perturbed by a question regarding the Hokies and their high-octane offense. What sort of a challenge was it, he was asked, to face the nation's third-best scoring team?
"Honestly, you can ask them about handling a team that guards like us,'' Huggins replied. "I think we'll do a better job of guarding them than people have. I think that's what it's going to come down to.''
And, indeed, it did.
The fact is that in stark contrast to the school's football team - which won not a single game this season because of its defensive prowess - Huggins' basketball team may win very few this winter because of its offense.
Yes, there were offensive moments at which to marvel during Saturday's 68-67 win over the no-longer-unbeaten Hokies. Chief among them were the shocking 3-pointers rained down by post players Kevin Noreen and Aaric Murray.
But this was also a team whose three primary backcourt players missed 22 of the 25 shots they took. It's a team that shot just 35.3 percent, which is not far from the norm (39.8 percent) through seven games. It's a team whose starters score but 32 points and whose foul shooters, after an unusually successful performance three nights earlier against Marshall, were once again just that - foul (10 of 18, 55.6 percent).
But for the third straight game, West Virginia's defense put it to a team whose primary strength was outscoring opponents.
"Our biggest job was just to defend them,'' said point guard Juwan Staten, who not only made the winning layup with 5 seconds to play (his only field goal of the game), but stayed in the face of Tech's Erick Green (the nation's No. 2 individual scorer) and was a big reason he didn't hit his potential game-winner at the buzzer. "I don't think they'd been guarded like that before.''
No, Tech had seldom been guarded closely or aggressively this season during a 7-0 start. The Hokies were shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor (48.3), but shot just 41.5 percent against West Virginia, a season low.
That's about the norm for West Virginia opponents through seven games (41.3 percent) and it will likely have to continue if the Mountaineers are going to win games.
Of course, offensively WVU has to get something going and eventually will. There are too many decent shooters on the roster to continue shooting under 40 percent as a team, but the Mountaineers probably are going to have to use their defense and rebounding to generate points.
They did part of that against Virginia Tech by getting 23 offensive rebounds, but they have yet to begin using that defense to score easy baskets, which was something Huggins has tried to emphasize since the start of practice. That defense forced Tech into five turnovers in the first 15 minutes Saturday, but then just one more after that.
Afterward, Huggins wasn't complaining about the lack of offense generated by defense, but he knows that eventually that has to begin happening. For now, though, having a defense that simply shuts opponents down even without forcing turnovers is enough.
BRIEFLY: West Virginia has a short turnaround for its next game. The Mountaineers face Duquesne (5-4) Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The Dukes beat New Orleans, 88-70, Saturday, three days after losing by 21 to Pitt.
After that comes Saturday night's game with Michigan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. John Beilein's team is 9-0, ranked No. 3 in the polls, No. 2 in the Rating Percentage Index and has the ninth-toughest schedule according to the RPI.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1