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WVU BBall- Wins the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Is Good

By Jude

Finally, something to be happy about in Morgantown.

Let's face it, folks. It's been a rough few years for Mountaineer Athletics in the revenue sports. (Shout out to the Rifle Team, though. We see you beastin'.)

There was about a 2-week period in the football season this year where we all thought things might be finally back on track. (ESPN Gameday even came to town for the TCU game that suddenly feels like it was several years ago.) But after 3 straight losses, depression has returned to that end of Patterson Avenue, and Mountaineer fans were hoping that the other end of the street might bear some better news.

And it sure has.

WVU beat #17 UConn last night in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship Game to move to 5-0 on the season with a resume'-building win over the reigning National Champions on a neutral floor. They're playing an exciting, full-court pressure style of defense that's leading to turnovers, fast breaks, dunks, and W's. They've got the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year in Juwan Staten running the show with a mix of exciting newcomers and established veterans behind him in a ceaseless stream of guys coming into the game to keep up the high-intensity style of play. They've got frontcourt depth the likes of which most Mountaineer fans can't ever remember in Morgantown.

And at least so far, they've managed to move past the sort of me-first, divisive team basketball that has plagued them over the past few rough seasons, surviving the high-profile transfers of their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers last year, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, and several key contributors the year before.

Subsequently, they're ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

WVU's depth has allowed them to turn up the pressure on opposing teams.
(Photo by Patrick Raycraft here.)

So who saw this coming? Bob Huggins, for one.

When asked in this CBSsports.com article if he liked the state of the Mountaineers before last season started, Huggins thought about it and said, "We're so young, but I think so. I think we're going to be a really good a year from now. Not just good, but really good."

Right now, his team is making him look like a wise, wise man.

Staten and Devin Williams are the two returning major contributors from last season, and while Staten's line of 16-4-2 isn't as eye-popping as last year, he's done it while playing 10 less minutes per game so far in the young season. Meanwhile, The Goggles are a serious threat for a double-double every single night, averaging 14 and 9 so far, providing low post scoring, passing, rebounding, and defense. But these guys were known quantities. Expectations were high for both of them. The newcomers have been the pleasant surprise.

Mountaineer fans have patiently waited for the day that Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton could suit up; both of them were highly-touted players that encountered eligibility problems with the NCAA. Macon was a member of the 2012 recruiting class, while Holton was a junior college transfer before last season. Now that both of them are eligible, WVU has frontcourt depth that very few teams in the nation can match. The breakneck pace of a full-court press wouldn't be possible if WVU didn't have the ability to sub in Williams, Holton, Macon, Nathan Adrian, and (eventually) Brandon Watkins and Kevin Noreen, both presently out with injuries. Those are 6 guys 6'9'' or taller that are all capable of double-digit scoring and rebounding along with tenacious defense.

When's the last time WVU had more than ONE guy that could provide that?

At the same time the frontcourt is loaded with guys ready to run, the backcourt also features support behind Staten that allows Bob Huggins to not only prevent Staten from playing the insane 37 minutes per game he played last season, but to also keep up the pressure while he's out. Freshmen Javon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr., junior Jaysean Page and senior Gary Browne are all averaging more than 5 points per game. Perhaps more indicative of the Mountaineers' new style of play, they (along with Staten) are also all averaging more than a steal per game. (Daxter is averaging .8 steals per game, but I rounded up. Last night's win has me in a generous mood.)

Additionally, WVU will be getting freshman BillyDee Williams back from injury soon to provide even more depth and athleticism, in addition to a Great Name Hall of Fame candidate.

The result is a trapping full-court press that was a staple of Bob Huggins teams for years before he came to West Virginia. When Huggins first arrived in Morgantown, I wrote a season preview blog that predicted the sort of pressure he was famous for. It included these words:

How dedicated is Bob Huggins to the idea of pressure defense? The title of his autobiography is "Bob Huggins: Pressed for Success."

Any guy that chose this picture for his autobiography is apparently pretty intense.

How dedicated is Bob Huggins to the idea of pressure defense? He sells coaching DVD’s called "Smothering Pressure Defense - Dominating the Box", "The Pressure 1-1-3 Zone Defense", "Full Court 1-3-1 Trapping Defense", and "The Evolution of Pressure Defense."

But we never saw it. WVU's lack of depth wouldn't permit this sort of high-octane, high-energy pressure on both ends of the floor. Much ink has been spent and much bandwidth has been dedicated to the Bob Huggins recruiting classes that, for whatever reason, never seemed to pan out. From transfers to injuries to academics to substance abuse, whatever the reason, the Mountaineers haven't had a full recruiting class capable of providing this sort of depth since Huggins arrived.

Now that they do, it's interesting to see the REAL Bob Huggins style being implemented.

“We have to play more people to play this way. The game is faster, there are more possessions, there are generally more fouls called – you get tired,” Huggins said following the home win over Lafayette last week, as quoted in this article from WVillustrated.com.

And with wins like Sunday night's in Puerto Rico, this new style of play and the results it's generating are certainly providing a notice to the rest of the college basketball world that the hibernating (Huggy)bear in Morgantown might finally have woken up.
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