So far this season, that recipe has allowed the Mountaineers to a surprising start. Somehow, this team that was selected to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 Conference is undefeated at 7-0 and ranked in the top 25.
WVU is making the ugly win look pretty in 2014-15.
“Last year, we played a totally different style,” said point guard Juwan Staten. “This year, we’re getting a lot of points off of our press, and it creates more of an up-tempo game. With the team we have, this style of play just gives opportunities for everyone.”
It’s not all wide-open threes or alley-oop dunks for the Mountaineers – in fact on Saturday against the College of Charleston WVU hit only 30 percent of its threes and failed on every single one of its alley-oop attempts. Instead, West Virginia just ran its offense, took advantage of the easy bucket opportunities its defense gave it and didn’t turn it over much. Glamorous? Nah. Effective? Absolutely, as the Mountaineers won the contest 86-57.
The way West Virginia plays isn’t a style that will make your mouth water when you watch the offensive end of the court, unless you like the occasional five-minute drought. It’s not what you’ll remember WVU basketball was during the John Beilein era. That was pretty with all the motion and back-cuts and wide-open 3-pointers. Actually, this team’s style of basketball might be the opposite of that team.
However, if you’re into guts and grit, this might be a team you’ll fall in love with. And with that, it's taking all the right steps toward having a really strong 2014-15 season.
“That’s what this team is about. We’ve got a lot of guys that can just step in and pay their roles or step in and play better than what they’re capable of,” said guard Jaysean Paige. “It’s always fun when you get to play with your friends, and we are all friends. It’s like going back home and playing pickup outside.”
Take the second half of Saturday’s game for example. West Virginia just ate the College of Charleston alive with its pressure. After a so-so first half and a disappointing first few minutes of the second half on the offensive end, WVU slowly picked the Cougars apart in an eight-minute stretch of the game.
It went from a nine-point halftime lead to a 25-point lead with 10 minutes to play. Had you got up from your Coliseum seat to get a box of popcorn or from your couch to grab a beer, you’d have missed a basketball clinic. It was perhaps the best stretch of basketball WVU has played in many years regardless of opponent, and yet you won’t see people talk about it, because it looked so routine.
“We’re all on the same page, and we’re all working toward the same goal,” Paige said. “We know that we have to stick to the script.”
Through a stretch from the 16-minute mark to the eight-minute mark in the second half, WVU averaged three points per minute to go from leading by nine to 28. That stretch was started by a play drawn up by Huggins during a timeout in which freshman forward Elijah Macon was found posting up against a smaller defender and scored an easy bucket. It sounds simple really, but it has been a while since the Mountaineers have been able to run a play that was drawn up in a timeout and look cohesive and confident when executing it. This team is different, though. It can play smart.
Throughout that eight-minute stretch in the second half, the Mountaineers went through a stretch where they made eight of 11 shots … and held Charleston to two points and many, many misses.
“We play hard. That’s how I’d describe it,” Paige said.
West Virginia is going to win a lot of games this season, because it knows who it is and what it wants to play like; That’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time here.
This team plays like Huggins coaches, and not since the Final Four team could you really, truly say something like that. It might be ugly at times if you look at the way West Virginia is able to score points, but the Mountaineers are sure making an ugly win look really, really pretty through the first month of the season.
In fact, that’s exactly what they want to do, and probably will do, for the rest of the season. Ugly wins, of course, are just as effective as pretty ones.