It doesn't take a basketball wiz to understand how bad West Virginia was defensively a year ago. The 2020-21 season was a bit of an oddity as the offense was one of the best Huggins has ever had at WVU while the defense was extremely poor. Most Bob Huggins-coached teams are known for their defensive prowess and ability to rebound the ball on both ends of the floor. However, the effort on the glass and on the defensive end of the floor was not to the liking of the head man. For West Virginia to have success this upcoming season, the defense has to be much improved and it may even call for the return of Press Virginia. Well, maybe.
"Yeah, conceivably," Huggins said on the possibility of pressing more next season. "We've gone back and looked at the old Press Virginia stuff and it was really good really for two reasons - we had two of the best on the ball defenders in America in JC and Dax and we had the best shot blocker in America in Sags. So, we were pretty good at it. And when they did break it, I mean you look at the highlight film of Kansas coming in trying to score on Sags and he just continued to block shots and shake his finger at them. We don't have Sags and we're probably never ever going to have another Sags. But we've got to do a better job of guarding the ball and we hope those guys in the back can be an influence. They don't have to block shots but if they could change shots, that would be terrific."
Those guys he hopes will have an influence around the rim are transfers Dimon Carrigan (Florida International) and Pauly Paulicap (DePaul). The two combine for an average of 3.7 shots blocked per game. In Sagaba Konate's last full season at WVU, he averaged 3.2 blocks per game. That being said, Carrigan and Paulicap won't likely see the minutes that Konate did due to the return of Gabe Osabuohien and the promising talent of Isaiah Cottrell. In fact, if it weren't for Cottrell coming off of an Achilles tear, the Mountaineers may not have pursued both shot blockers according to Huggins.
"We basically took three bigs but we felt like we needed three bigs with everybody that we lost and the uncertainty with Isaiah [Cottrell]. If we knew Isaiah was going to be healthy and be 100%, I don't know that we would have went to the extreme that we went to. Our other guys are getting better and better and better but they're not there yet."
When you have multiple guys that can rotate into the game and protect the rim, it allows you to do some things defensively that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise. Press Virginia has been on a three-year hiatus but that could come to an end if Huggins sees improvement from his guards defensively. Regardless, WVU has to have some sort of defensive alignment that takes teams out of their rhythm. They were unable to do so this past season which is why teams had such great success against them.
"We need to be able to do something defensively that is different than what we did," Huggins said. "Some kind of zone, some kind of halfcourt, something. You look back when we were really good and we were really good because we kept people off balance. Go back to the Kentucky game, we tried to guard them man-to-man and we had no chance. Thank goodness we had been playing that 1-3-1 some. We didn't play it a lot but we played it some and really, that saved us. It saved us in both Villanova games. Both Villanova games we trapped them out of the 1-3-1. The Louisville games we trapped them out of the 1-3-1. We tried to do it last year and we were just really bad at it, so we didn't do it. Hopefully, we'll be able to do some things like that and play some 1-1-3 and maybe press a little bit just to change the tempo of the game which we didn't do a very good job of a year ago."
Regardless of what Huggins and co. decide to do defensively, they now have the personnel to slowly mold back into a fullcourt pressing team if they so choose.
"We like our roster. We don't have probably as much size as what we've had the last couple of years but I think we've got guys that are going to be able to defend the rim and probably be a little more versatile. I like our guys. I like our team."
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