Huggins Hints at Return of Full-Court Press for West Virginia in 2020
When it comes to Bob Huggins, nothing is off the table.
As one of the winningest coaches in the history of the game, the West Virginia native has shown in many instances that he is willing and able to adapt his coaching style to get the most out of his players. That aversion to dogmatic practices was never more apparent than when he implemented a core philosophy that would become the vaunted "Press Virginia" and in turn dominate college basketball for several seasons. Since the departure of program icon Jevon Carter, the Press Virginia mantle has been essentially moth-balled as the Mountaineers have instead focused on running any and everything through a talented frontcourt attack anchored by Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver.
On Wednesday, Huggy Bear sat down for a live studio interview with Tony Caridi. The two ran through a wish-list of topics concerning the Mountaineers and the outlook on the 2020 season. Just near the 19:30 mark, however, Caridi presses (pun intended) Huggins on a possible return back to a press-based system. Huggins, ever the linguist, had this to contribute:
"No, I think we can, I really do... I think we can; you know, we have guys that can run. We've got guys who can run and then it's up to us to teach them how to stay in front of their man. It's up to us to teach them angles. It's up to us to teach them rotations. We weren't very good at rotations for a while, a year ago...and then at the end of the year we got pretty doggone good at making rotations [at half court] and now we've just got to be able to extend that"
It's no secret that West Virginia suffered a deficit in both leadership and front-line talent the year after Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr. left the program. Without someone out on the top of the press with a ferrari-like motor like Carter and an experienced and engaged supporting cast in tow, Huggins was forced to abandon the press in favor of playing half court defense and running more traditional offensive sets. The sudden and precipitous drop from one of the nation's premier defensive teams to a shell that couldn't even pass muster for the NIT has had fans across Mountaineer fandom hoping for a possible Press Virginia return ever since.
With Oscar Tshiebwe's recent declaration that he will return to the program in 2020, West Virginia is boasting arguably its most loaded roster in this, or any, era of Mountaineer basketball. As such, that combination of experience (279 total games played among returning players) and talent, allows substantial latitude in which Huggins can manipulate different sets and line ups. When you're forecasting at team to be at least two deep at all five spots on the floor, fatigue isn't going to be a major concern. When you have the right amalgamation of length (Culver, Tshiebwe), tenacity (Gabe Osabuohien, emphatically) and quickness (Sherman, McCabe, McBride), unleashing a full-court bear trap on teams with lesser depth makes too much sense.
Additionally, implementing an effective full-court press may help curb some of West Virginia's offensive woes that might spill over from last season. Remember that cold streak throughout the month of February? The Mountaineers lost six games during that stretch due largely -if not exclusively- to an inability to create any type of half court offense. Sometimes, shots just don't fall: that's inherent to the ebb and flow of the game. But riding an effective shooting percentage at or below .400 is going to lose you far more games than it will win. With a press in your arsenal, you can create offense on the fly and, as a result, create an excess of quality looks. In summary, a good full-court press is a force multiplier. It makes your good qualities better and is a no-brainer for a team as deep as West Virginia.
Bob Huggins isn't one for bluster, never has been. If he's tipping his hand now, there's a good chance that we will see a return to a full-court look in 2020. Will it be the same chaos engine that gained infamy from 2015-2018? There's no telling. But the Mountaineers, with a dearth of top-end talent and an equal measure of experience, have all the tools to make it so. If Huggins can engineer a Press Virginia 2.0 in tandem with his two towers approach favoring Culver and Tshiebwe- strap yourself in.
2020 could be a year of bedlam in Morgantown, WV.