MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The West Virginia University basketball team took the nation by surprise last season with its full court pressure basketball. The smothering defense helped the Mountaineers win 25 games and make a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
‘Press Virginia’ led the nation last season with 376 steals. WVU forced an average of 19.4 turnovers a game.
The question remains, can the Mountaineers continue to have success with the press?
“The press is what we are going to do,” said freshman forward Esa Ahmad.
Ahmad believes this season’s team is just as capable of running the press, if not going to be better.
“We got great guys off the bench,” he said. “I think our whole roster is capable of doing it.”
Sophomore guard Jevon Carter believes the press will be a success again this year as well.
“I think that it is going to be the same as last year or even better,” he said. “I don’t see why not.”
Pressure defense involves athleticism and quickness, but it also needs everyone to buy into the concept. That might be the biggest reason this style works for head coach Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers.
Everyone trusts Huggins and the press.
“We have good guys that like to play,” Huggins said. “I don’t know if I ever want to go through another year where I got guys that you’re begging every day to play. These guys like to play, and they like to compete. So it makes it more fun. You are not constantly trying to trick them or motivate them to get them to do the right thing.”
One uncertainty for WVU is how officiating changes will affect the press. After a closed scrimmage against Temple last weekend, Huggins is optimistic that nothing will really change.
“Honestly, I didn’t think that the officiating was drastically different,” he said. “We had the guys that we are going to have in the Big 12. And I talked to Curtis (Shaw, Big 12 Men’s Basketball Coordinator) afterwards and he said he thought we did a really good job with our hands, not having our hands on people and not committing just the dumb fouls, which is what I talked to them about from the beginning.
“We are going to foul. Everybody fouls, but lets don’t make dumb fouls. Lets don’t do unnecessary things. We are going to overrun somebody and bump into them very once in awhile. It happens, you are going to foul. I don’t think we foul anymore than anybody else does, but I think we have to foul even less now because of the way they say they are going to call the game, but I didn’t think it was that big an issue.”
WVU returns the majority of last season’s team. Juwan Staten and Gary Browne are gone, but the Mountaineers had an excellent recruiting class that included Ahmad.
WVU has the talent and the depth to continue off last season’s success and to make ‘Press Virginia’ a bigger hit than last year.