Dribbling To Success?

As West Virginia began running its half-court sets against Eastern Kentucky on Sunday, one thing became quickly apparent – this wasn't the same motion offense that the Mountaineers had employed in the first 11 games of the season.

In addition to Huggins' version of the motion offense and some high-low posts when two bigs were in the lineup, WVU also began showing more dribbling on the offensive end. That's usually not a part of a Huggins game plan – the coach has often pointed out that "killing ants" – pounding the ball into the floor with pointless dribbling – is counterproductive in his offense. However, in this instance it was a necessary part of the change that Huggins had installed during the week off since the Radford game – the addition of the dribble drive motion offense to West Virginia's attack.

While it has a three-word name, the DDM isn't complex. It is built off the basics of the Motion Offense, which emphasizes, as its name implies, a lot of movement by offensive players on the perimeter. The dribble-drive adds the tactic of having guards drive into the lane to either draw help defenders and free teammates for shots, or to get to the rim and finish. There's more to it than that, of course, but a couple of the big differences involve the position of the post and wing players. In the DDM, the post goes to the weak side, away from the ball, and wings go to the deep corners. That, in theory, opens the court for more drives and forces secondary defenders to commit to cutting off the driver, thus freeing either a perimeter player for open shots or the post player for a dump pass and a close-in attempt.

West Virginia executed the newly-installed scheme fairly well in the first half. Juwan Staten and Gary Browne got to the basket for good shots on several occasions, and also to the free throw line when they were fouled by late-arriving defenders. The Mountaineers also hit a couple of threes off kick-out passes from the penetrating guards, and built a 13-point halftime lead.

"I really thought we got better and stopped doing dumb things in some stretches in the first half. I thought it kind of looked like my team," Huggins said of the performance.

As has been the case all year, however, things broke down in the second half. West Virginia stopped executing the fundamentals of the DDM (keeping good spacing, setting up the defense for drives and looking for passes off the dribble), allowing EKU to get back into the game.

"We got up by 14 and then we don't pass it or hand it off," Huggins explained. "We drive it right down and run someone over. "We're all yelling [from the bench] ‘Move him first!' – that's something I learned in fifth grade. You have to move [the defense] before you drive it in there. So then we come down the second time and do the exact same thing. A different guy, but the exact same thing, and almost in the exact same spot. That's so frustrating."

Huggins also commented that he spent "way too much" time installing the offense during the past week – perhaps a reference to his team's inability to assimilate lessons without many more repetitions than it should take. He was also quick to point out that his team can't finish one of the basics of the DDM – hitting open jumpers that result when defenders leave perimeter players to help cut off the drive.

"Have you watched Kentucky, they shoot threes," Huggins noted, referring to one of the heaviest users of the DDM. "They don't shoot a lot of lay-ups. They penetrate and they pitch. Now look at [our] stat sheet and tell me who you want me to pitch it to. We have a guy who took ten shots today and he's shooting 19% from three."

While that is true, it's also a fact that the DDM might highlight some of the strengths of his team. In Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, Huggins has a pair of players who have the ability to drive and either score at the rim, draw fouls or find open teammates. That duo showed promise in all regards against the Colonels, making a combined 19-20 from the free throw line and dishing out eight assists. The latter number would have been higher if a few more jumpers and inside passes were converted into made shots as they should have been. WVU won the game at the free throw line, where it outscored EKU by 26 points.

Of course, there's room for improvement if the DDM is to become a go-to staple of this year's team. Converting some of those open three-pointers (WVU was just 2-12 in the game) and getting more productivity from post players who get drop-off passes at the end of drives is critical. Staten and Browne must also make great decisions on drives in terms of reading the defense and getting the ball to the open teammate. However, even though Huggins was critical of much of his team's play in the game, the DDM has enough potential to stay on the practice schedule as the Mountaineers prepare for Big 12 play. It won't be the answer to all of West Virginia's problems, but it could be another piece of the puzzle in forging a successful season.


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