This season’s version of West Virginia’s basketball roster is highlighted by how much is new. But the Mountaineers success likely will depend on a style of play that is definitively old.
Modern basketball has become dominated by long-range shooting. Analytics show a clear preference for the 3-point shot over mid-range and post-up play to maximize scoring efficiency. Teams have become smaller and quicker over the past 10-15 years. The big man – once the dominant force in basketball – has become an afterthought, if not an albatross https://www.theringer.com/nba/2019/12/2/20991249/post-up-dead-nba-brooklyn-nets-joel-embiid.
WVU coach Bob Huggins has shown he is nothing if not adaptive during his Hall of Fame-worthy career. When he took over the Mountaineers in 2007-08, he inherited a team recruited by departed coach John Beilein. The styles of the two coaches couldn’t be different – Huggins relied on stingy man-to-man defense and gritty and relentless rebounding. Beilein, by contrast, coached defense as second fiddle and rebounding as optional. Beilein’s teams relied on sharp shooting and efficient offense. Those Mountaineer teams overcame a weakness on the glass with solid outside shooting and by avoiding turnovers.
When Huggins inherited a Mountaineers roster that was built on the Beilein philosophy, he adapted. The man-to-man adherent often adopted Beilein’s 1-3-1 zone. It worked well enough that Huggins led his first West Virginia squad to the Sweet 16 and an overtime loss from the Elite Eight.
As Huggins brought in his own recruits, the Mountaineers moved more into the Huggins style. But even in that transition, Huggins continued adaptations. Beginning with the freshmen class led by Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., Huggins shifted from a half-court man-to-man defense to a full-court, aggressive trapping defense that came to be known as Press Virginia. Seeing a team that had an abundance of quickness and tenacious defenders but lacked scoring punch, Huggins molded his style around his talent. Rather than forcing the square peg in the round hole, he switched the hole.
Now, Huggins has a team that is completely suited for old school, pound the ball in the paint basketball. The power duo of freshman five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) and sophomore Derek Culver (6-10, 255) have the size, strength and skill to dominate the post. If/when these two develop a symmetry on the floor, they can be the best low-post duo in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. While this type low-post dominated game is “outdated,” it’s perfectly suited to the skill set of the 2019-20 Mountaineers.
Modern basketball is an outside shooting centric round holes. No need for the Mountaineers to try and force their square-peg roster into it.