Turnovers was seemingly the word of the day from the No. 11 Mountaineers (24-7, 12-6), who lost multiple games this season - and the opening round NCAA game last year - at least in part because of the miscues. The culprit, as it has been many times, is simply trying to do too much, to make the "heroic" play, according to Tarik Phillip, rather than the high percentage play. Portions of that fall under the idea of merely operating within the offense. But parts of it are an ability to take the extra split second to ensure the pass, the decision. As John Wooden once said, "be quick, but don't hurry."
That's among the keys for West Virginia, which locked in on that, as well as the typical focus on defense and rebounding, while readying for the Thursday evening match-up against the winner of No. 7 Tech and No. 10 Texas. The Mountaineers recorded a season sweep of Texas and a split with Texas Tech, the lone loss coming when WVU committed more turnovers (14) than it forced (13) in a 77-76 defeat in Lubbock. It was also the first defeat in Big 12 play.
"That would be a great idea," head coach Bob Huggins said of not turning the ball over. "We do sometimes. We get all caught up in the moment, get caught up in trying to make a spectacular play."
In West Virginia's seven losses, the Mountaineers have averaged 14.9 turnovers. In the school-record tying 24 regular-season wins? Just 11.6. The ramifications are obvious. More turnovers most always equates to fewer shots, fewer chances for offensive rebounds, fewer opportunities at the free throw line and the flip side for the opponent. More shots, increased scoring, more opposing free throws and thus fouls on the Mountaineers. All those boxes get checked, as expected, when looking at the stat lines between wins and losses, as they do for most teams. But it's even more exaggerated for West Virginia because of its pressing style.
WVU leads the country in turnover margin (8.8), turnovers forced (21.2) and steals (10.9), which has helped it rank third in scoring margin (17.0) and 15th in scoring offense (83.8). The Mountaineers, in fact, average 41.4 deflections per game (35.1 in Big 12 play) and are forcing opponents to turn it over on 28.2 percent of their possessions, tops in the nation, while nearly forcing more turnovers (657) than its opponents have made field goals (689). Turn the ball back over after the exertion required, and much of the benefit of the entire exercise is negated.
"We're at out best when we just do what we do," said Jevon Carter, the Big 12's leader in steals and its Defensive Player of the Year. "There are scorers all over the world. But not too many take pride in their defense. It's about what we do. If we do what we do, we can turn anybody over."
With the idea being not to give it right back. It's quite likely the Mountaineers will go as far as that approach takes them, even against elite level competition in the among the nation's best conferences, and one which leads multiple percentage indexes for the best in the country.
"We talk all the time about hanging banners," Huggins said. "You can't hang a banner unless you win something. What makes this league so hard is that there's no bottom. Every league I have been in before this had a bottom and you knew you should win against those teams. There's no bottom to this league. You are going to play somebody pretty good."