The old adage in sports is that defense wins championships. It worked for Nolan Richardson in 1994 and his Arkansas Razorbacks with their 40 minutes of hell and three years ago Bob Huggins decided to be successful in the Big 12 things would need to change. What has become known as “Press Virginia” was born. It’s a defensive style of constant pressure forcing teams to play at a faster pace than they want forcing them into turning the ball over.
The implementation of the style has been a growing process over the three years although you wouldn’t be able to tell by the end result of wins and losses. Two seasons ago the Mountaineers won 25 games and earned a trip to the Sweet 16, last year they won 26 and fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and this year they are off to an 8-1 start including a true road win at #6 Virginia.
The success of Coach Huggins’ new style can really be seen by taking a look at the team stats over the last three seasons. In the last three years West Virginia has gone from 173rd in scoring defense allowing 66.8 points per game to 4th this season at 57.1 points per game. You see that progression across almost all of West Virginia’s defense stats since the style’s inception. Two stats they didn’t need much improvement but have seen some anyway are steals and turnover margin. Over the last three seasons West Virginia has ranked no lower than second in the country in steals forcing 376 in 2014-15 to lead the nation and their 123 is tops as well. They also lead the nation in turnover margin at a staggering 14.9, a full eight turnovers more than the second best team. To be fair that number is skewed a bit by a 34:11 turnover ratio in a 59-point win over New Hampshire. But to also put the 14.9 turnover margin into perspective, two years ago when West Virginia finished second in that category, the national leader was Eastern Kentucky with a 7.2 turnover margin.
Rebounding has always been a staple of Bob Huggins coached teams and this incarnation of West Virginia is no different. Over the last three years the team has ranked in the top 75 in total rebounds per game and has been first or second in offensive rebounds per game. This year they rank 40th in rebounds per game at just over 40 and first in offensive rebounds per game at 16.5.
Growth can also be seen on the offensive end for the Mountaineers. Three years ago the team averaged 72.6 points per game and jumped up to 78.5 last season. This year they are sixth in the country averaging over 90 points per game. Outside of the defensive struggle their low point total came in an 81-77 loss to Temple.
We know Kansas has had a stranglehold over the Big 12 Conference for a long time but if a team is going to unseat them it may very well be the West Virginia Mountaineers who fell to the Jayhawks in last year’s title game. This season, at least so far West Virginia looks even tougher defensively and after all defense wins championships.