A coach’s success is always measured by wins and losses. Rarely do we take a step back and truly analyze where those wins came from and how they were obtained.
Before the season many had already written off the 2014-2015 WVU basketball team. They had just lost Remi Dibo, Terry Henderson, and Eron Harris. Those three alone combined for almost 29 points per game last season, which was just over 25% of the Mountaineers scoring offense. West Virginia was picked to come in 6th in the Big 12 this season
Further, fans and media alike were starting to question what had happened to the future hall of fame coach. He was losing players and the last two seasons had been subpar at best. And despite the talent coming in many had started to question whether Huggins was still the man for the job.
Despite the lack of optimism from both the fan base and media Huggins quietly changed the teams identity in just one season. Players such as Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter have made immediate contributions while veterans like Gary Browne and Juwan Staten have become team leaders. Huggins implemented a press defense that only could excel with players that bought into a team concept. You would be hard pressed to find a program to have a single season turn around such as Huggins Mountaineer program, especially after losing three top scorers while totally changing the dynamic of how the team plays.
After starting the season 18-3 the Mountaineers went into a slump losing three of four games. And those losses were significant, by 19 at Oklahoma, by 18 vs Baylor, and by 27 at Texas. After reaching as high as 14th in the nation the Mountaineers were starting to fall and the guarantee of making the NCAA tournament was fading. Enter the hall of fame coach…
While the Kansas win was significant on multiple levels it was the last play of the game that proved why Huggins was still the man for the job. With just over 8 seconds remaining Huggins subbed in Chase Conner who had hit multiple three’s in the Mountaineers prior game (3-6 against Iowa St) but had not seen much of the floor the entire game prior. With Conner on the floor Kansas was forced to keep someone on the sharp shooter. Looking at the replay you will see that when Staten drives Wayne Selder of Kansas was unable to collapse to the basket because Conner was set up at the right side of the arch. It was a perfectly designed play using Conner as a decoy.
Fast forward to Texas. Simply put the Mountaineers did not match up well against the Longhorns, the 27 point beatdown proved that point. However, Huggins again proved why he is a future hall of fame coach. Instead of coming out with their patented press defense the Mountaineers settled into a zone, yes a zone. Looking back over this season not once has a team had to prepare for a WVU zone defense. 40 game minutes later the Mountaineers leave the Coliseum with a 7 point victory, a differential of 34 points from the last meeting.
Moving forward teams will have to now prepare for not only a WVU press defense which is the most suffocating in the country, but also a zone defense that shut down a Longhorns team that was at one point shooting 70% from the floor. While many were worried about a late season collapse Huggins was preparing to put together arguably the best 3 game win streak of the season. After being outscored by a total of 53 points over a four game stretch Huggins regrouped to defeat 2 straight ranked opponents and avenge a 27 point loss, all in succession. That is what hall of fame coaches do.