MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The last time VMI encountered “Press Virginia” in Charleston, the Keydets turned the ball over 36 times in a 103-72 loss to the Mountaineers back in 2014.
That VMI team won just 11 games.
The one coming to Morgantown on Saturday afternoon to face 15th-ranked West Virginia has won only once so far this year against Southern Virginia on November 15, doesn’t have a starter taller than 6-foot-6, and is allowing its opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field this season.
That’s not a good recipe for success when facing an 11-man, full-court pressing defense that ranks No. 1 in the country in turnover margin (15.5), turnovers forced (26.5) and steals (14.1).
But that’s what’s confronting VMI on Saturday in Morgantown.
Western Carolina took its medicine on Wednesday night in Charleston when the Catamounts had trouble simply getting the ball beyond midcourt. And when they did, it usually ended up back in the hands of the Mountaineers anyway.
Consequently, West Virginia rolled to a 90-37 victory - its sixth so far this year by 28 points or more. WVU opened the season with a 28-point win against Mount St. Mary’s, defeated Mississippi Valley State by 41, downed New Hampshire by 59, beat Illinois by 32, manhandled Manhattan by 47 and beat Western Carolina by 53.
“It’s hard for them just because we don’t let people run offense,” admitted West Virginia coach Bob Huggins Wednesday night. “We make people play. We just don’t let people get into it and I think everybody is to the point where they see other people turn it over and you don’t want to turn it over - you want to take care of the ball. The best thing to do is to throw it backwards, and it’s hard to run offense when you are constantly throwing the ball backwards.”
Indeed, and even the really good teams have been required to do that at times against Huggins’ defense.
WVU’s most impressive win to date - by nine points at then sixth-ranked Virginia - snapped the Cavaliers’ 24-game home court winning streak. That victory happened a week after the Mountaineers’ only poor performance of the season against Temple, an 81-77 neutral-site loss.
Actually, it was just a poor first half performance against Temple when West Virginia hit the snooze button on its alarm and trailed the Owls by 20 at halftime. WVU made up the difference in a matter of 10 minutes in the second half and had several opportunities to win the game down the stretch.
Including Saturday’s game against the Keydets, WVU has three more non-conference outings coming up against Missouri-Kansas City at the Coliseum on Saturday, December 17, against Radford at the Coliseum on December 20, and against Northern Kentucky at the Coliseum on December 23.
Then the Mountaineers have a week to get ready for their Big 12 opener at Oklahoma State on Friday, December 30. Four days later, it’s Texas Tech in Lubbock on January 3.
In the meantime, West Virginia is going to be heavily favored at home against their next four opponents. It should provide an opportunity for Huggins to see how some of his younger players react in game situations, as was the case on Wednesday night in Charleston.
At one point late in the second half, Huggins had four freshmen and senior walk-on James Long
on the floor at the same time. There could be instances coming up in the coming games when he has five freshmen out there at the same time.
“I can’t run anything with five freshmen in there because invariably one of them will screw it up,” said Huggins. “We’re just kind of passing it around out there waiting until someone makes a bad close out to penetrate it and pitch it.”
Whether it’s Sagaba Konate
coming in to grab rebounds and protect the rim, or Maciej Bender
knocking down some outside shots, or Beetle Bolden and Chase Harler
handling the ball at the point, some of those younger guys may be needed.
That could pay big dividends come February and March when the Mountaineers look to make another postseason run.
Saturday’s game against the Keydets will tip off at 2 p.m. and will be televised locally on ROOT SPORTS. It is a Family Day, meaning four tickets and a $25 voucher for concessions can be purchased for just $70 through WVUGAME.com
or by calling 1-800-WVU GAME.
Also, fans are encouraged to support a Toy Drive benefitting the WVU Toy Mountain program. All fans who donate a new, unused toy at the gates will receive a coupon for free admission to the WVU women’s game against USC-Upstate later Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m.
The undefeated Mountaineer women are ranked 13th in the country this week.