Texas Tech? It was as surprisingly ineffective as it has been since getting hot a month ago. The Red Raiders entered winners of five of six, including Top 25 upsets of Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma. It left a battered, beaten team, worn down by the Mountaineers' superior depth while turning the ball over 19 times even with a solid backcourt in Keenan Evans and Toddrick Gotcher which had handled the defensive abilities of Baylor.
Texas Tech, in fact, had scored more than 80 points three times over the six-game stretch, but it never managed to create enough shots against Press Virginia in a 90-68 loss that was as lopsided as the final statistics. The 19 forced turnovers led to a 34 points, and that was only part of the equation. In head coach Bob Huggins' cold-blooded calculation, his Mountaineers checked all the boxes in this one. Turnovers and points off? Check. More shots? Check. Rebounding advantage? Check. Superior bench scoring? Check.
"That’s the idea," Huggins said. "It doesn’t happen like that all the time, but that’s the idea. The idea is to get more shots than they get. You can do that by offensive rebounding and live ball turnovers. We got more points tonight off live ball turnovers than I think we have all year in conference play, and that’s key for us. We did rebound the ball well, and I thought our pressure was good. We had more bounce, we were a lot more active. We try to speed the other team up and make them play fast."
Even the margins were impressive. WVU took 27 more shots, made 11 more field goals, had a 40-23 edge on the boards - including 19-3 on the offensive glass - while managing 11 steals and the 19 turnovers forced. And all that was with Devin Williams not starting (Elijah Macon took his spot) and finishing with two points, along with seven rebounds. It led to four players in double figures, and eight of the nine others who played scored between six and 15 points. The Mountaineers were also smart in the distribution of playing time, none seeing more than Tarik Phillip's 25 minutes on the floor, a key as postseason looms.
It begs the question, if West Virginia wants others to play fast, opponents should slow the game down, correct? Play a methodical, prodding style even against the shortened shot clock? Not exactly.
"The pressure makes you play faster than you want to," Huggins said. "But if you really slow it down, it’s to our advantage because you don’t have as much time. You don’t have time to reverse the ball a couple of times."
So the only winning move isn't exactly not to play, but to play as Texas has this season, if the personnel are there. Break the press, and utilize guards to attack the bucket and put pressure on the rim to collapse the back end of the look. That enables high percentage interior shots, or kick-outs for open threes. But the Longhorns are among the rare teams comfortable with such antics from foes, because they themselves also use pressure under first year head coach Shaka Smart.
Teams that don't, like Texas Tech, are often in trouble. And that's the major advantage West Virginia has in the postseason. Most NCAA Tournament foes simply won't have seen this style often, if at all. And somewhat surprisingly, of the eight Big 12 teams the Mountaineers have played twice - Baylor the lone holdout to come in the season final on Saturday - four of them were actually worse the second time around.
WVU beat Kansas State, Texas Tech, TCU and Iowa State by greater margins in the second game than it did the first. Texas was a push in that department, both Longhorn wins coming by seven, while Oklahoma State's deficits were 17 in the regular season series opener and 14 in the finale'. Only Oklahoma and Kansas seemed to improve against the pressure, and KU's victory was in Phog Allen. The Sooners were the lone team that played far better against the Mountaineers in the second meeting.
All that bodes well, it seems, for the upcoming postseason, with the advantages likely being seen far more in the NCAA Tournament than in the Big 12.
"There is not much that you can do," Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith said. "They are going to press you and run you around. All five guys can’t play at that pace. We were hoping that we could slow that down and be a little bit more poised with the ball once we got in the front court. They were trapping every pick and roll, so we were just coughing it up. His style of play works. (Huggins)has done a fantastic job. The key is getting players to understand and accept their roles, and he does a fantastic job at that."