MORGANTOWN– “Press Virginia” begins their NCAA tournament journey tonight in Brooklyn, NY.
The Mountaineers (no.3 seed) drew Stephen F. Austin (no.14 seed) in the first round. Tip-off is set for 7:10 p.m. on CBS.
Bob Huggins is not only familiar with Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood, but both teams’ defensive playing styles are eerily similar.
Underwood coached under Huggins back at Kansas State, and he had nothing but nice things to say about him in pregame interviews.
“…There’s one thing about Huggs that people don’t realize because they see the intense, the passion and yet he’s a guy that is probably as easy to work for as anybody out there, and literally laughter is a part of his everyday life,” Underwood said. “I just photobombed one of his interviews over here and jumped in it just because I knew he’d do it to me, and it’s something that he’s funny. He’s so magnetic.”
On a more serious note, Underwood believes Huggins has a magnetic personality.
“When he left Kansas State to go to West Virginia, he impacted so many people’s lives, and one of those was my wife’s. I look over, and she’s crying when he’s getting on the plane to head out,” Underwood said. “There’s very few people who can do that. That’s probably not a story that’s funny, but it’s so meaningful because it’s who he is as a person. I think he’s impacted a lot of people’s lives, not just as players.”
The Lumberjacks (27-5) are the only team in the nation that forces more turnovers then the Mountaineers (26-8).
West Virginia is tops in the nation with 9.9 steals per game and second in turnovers forced with 18.15 per game. On the other hand, Stephen F. Austin leads the nation in turnovers forced with 18.63 per game and seventh in steals with 9.1 per game.
Playing the press style of defense, some wonder how Huggins gets his team to buy in.
“It really wasn’t that hard. I kind of asked them if they all wanted to play, and they all said they did, and I said, well, we can play all of you, but we’re going to have to play this way,” Bob Huggins said in Brooklyn on Thursday. “You know, it’s going to take a great amount of effort on every one of your parts, but you’re all going to get to play. I really think it’s helped our team chemistry. I think it’s helped our esprit de corps, so to speak.”
Devin Williams says it is important to buy in.
“We kind of got a taste of it last year of how critical it can be, how crucial it could be when other teams have to face us. We kind of made some history last year,” Williams said. “So it just gave a little bit more to look forward to. Just everybody’s being enthusiastic about it, so it’s just making it easier for everybody to go out there and just cause mayhem.”
Williams led the team with 31 points despite losing to Kansas in the Big 12 Championship, but his play has all eyes on him.
“I don’t know if you stop him (Devin Williams). One thing he does an unbelievable job is he plays to contact. So he gets to the foul line a great deal,” Stephen F. Austin head coach, Brad Underwood, said. “And then when you’ve got a team that has — is number 1 in the country in offensive rebound percentage in terms of getting the ball back, that’s a great start. Try to keep him off the foul line. Try to make his touches hard. And then block him out.”
He continued. “Now, a lot of people have tried that, and it’s a credit to Devin because he’s been successful in most every game out there. So very good player. We’re going to have to work. We’re going to throw a lot of bodies at him. We’re not going to do it with one person. Sometimes the best post defense is good perimeter defense. So we’ve got to make ourselves active and then just try to limit his touches the best we can and make sure we get a solid block out on him.”
WVU has reached the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in nine seasons under Bob Huggins, making it to the Sweet 16 last season.
The Lumberjacks are making their third straight appearance in the tournament as the Southland Conference champions.
Points: #5 Jaysean Paige 13.9 PPG 46.0 FG % 78.3 FT%
Rebounds: #41 Devin Williams 9.3 RPG
Assists: #2 Jevon Carter 3.3 APG
Stephen F. Austin
Points: #0 Thomas Walkup 17.5 PPG 59.8 FG% 79.7 FT%
Rebounds: #0 Thomas Walkup 6.8 RPG
Assists: #0 Thomas Walkup 4.5 APG