Second-year head coach Ron Everhart now has the athletes in place to play his uptempo, pressure style utilized in previous stints at McNeese State and Northeastern. Duquesne (6-2), winners of their first six for the first time in 28 years, has forced 165 turnovers and held foes to 68.4 average points per game while scoring 89.2. The Dukes ranked 324 of 325 Division I teams last season in opponent field goal percentage, allowing 50.7 percent shooting from the floor. But, after a recruiting and transfer boost, none of the initial five teams to play DU broke the 40 percent mark, and only No. 12 Pitt has shot better than 40 percent.
Some of that has come because of the trapping style, which is designed to force hurried shots and create and up-and-down game the Marion County native admires. A majority of it is Northwestern transfer Shawn Jones. The 6-10 junior led the NCAA in blocks per game in 2005-06 and has stuffed 42 this year, part of 74 DU blocks in eight games (9.3 blocks per game). Add in the 6-10 senior Kieron Achara and 6-1 guards who are both quick and agile and the duality could place a premium on West Virginia's outside shooting if the Mountaineers (6-1) can't create the cutting lanes and seams desired via its motion, free-flowing offense.
"They are very good guarding the interior, and that makes people not want to go back in there," WVU forward Welling Smith said. "When we do break the press, (Jones) won't be down there all the time. This will be more like a Tennessee where we get down the court. As long as we can break the press, get the ball down the floor, we should get open shots and lay-ups. That can get us open 3-pointers, and we usually make them."
The Mountaineers have made 67 of 169 (39.6 percent) overall and canned nine of 19 in an 88-59 dissection of Auburn in the SEC-Big East challenge Wednesday in Birmingham. But the Tigers had lackluster interior play and failed to handle any type of on-ball, man pressure, which led to multiple offensive chances. Duquesne, which has yet to play any team on the road with the talent and multifaceted ability of West Virginia, has at least seen play similar to that used by WVU – meaning the Dukes likely won't allow such easy inside scoring. It will attempt to force the Mountaineers away from the basket and get into a fast-paced game that at least partially takes away the raw shooting ability.
The traps and pressure used, however, doesn't resemble the largely token approach applied by Tennessee. The Volunteers predominantly denied the inbounds pass, then provided token man pressure from there. That style was used until UT hit the halfcourt, when it closed on opposing players. That served a twofold purpose. It forced West Virginia's guards to work the ball up the floor while not allowing the offense to get into a flow until the 25-second mark on the shot clock. The on-ball defender had to execute and play more uptempo, but the scheme also largely relaxed the rest of the defense, cutting its more intense time nearly in one-third and allowing it to play relentlessly on offense and in rebounding, though WVU finished with an edge on the boards.
Duquesne will not only jump the inbounds pass, but also use players away from and behind the ball to negate options and clog passing lanes. It will trap multiple times up the floor, not backing off after the first is broken. The two-man on-ball attack means that somebody is open and unguarded. The challenge is to find them quickly enough and deliver a pass before the off-ball defenders can get to the area. It's not a question so much as it the baskets will be available, but how and where the open looks will emerge.
"Anytime a team traps, they are giving something up and being at risk of allowing an easy basket," WVU point guard Darris Nichols said. "Hopefully we are in the right spot and we can run on them when they trap it. They make you play fast as they continue to trap, so you always have to be ready."
Those chances could come from behind the arc. Jones will be moving all over the floor, and not simply be stationed under the basket, denying a lay-in. Everhart will try to minimize floor space and create a tight game, which allows his team to better defend. West Virginia will counter with offensive spacing and trying to take the smart looks. A three could be the best as a result of the basket being guarded and a two or three-on-one that turns into such a chance. But while it is a viable option and the best way to force defenses away from the basket to create needed space, the 3-pointer can't merely be the shot for which WVU settles. It reads like a difficult task, but it's actually just recognizing what's available and exploiting it with fundamentals and ability, which is the basis of the entire Huggins offense.
"We have to make them chase and guard on the perimeter," said Huggins, who faced Everhart in 1995, when then-No. 5 Cincinnati beat McNeese State. "Ronnie has done a great job recruiting. They got a lot more athletic, and the players fit into what he wants to do. They are a little like Tennessee, but they will stick with full court pressure. We alleviated a lot of that against Tennessee. They don't get out of the pressure, they just change it, so there are more chances for scoring."
The risk-reward approach will be eyed by the two coaching staffs over the first 10-plus minutes. If Duquesne is successful, it could remain in the sets the entire game. If West Virginia is finding the looks and converting on them, the Dukes might be forced to attempt a halfcourt game. That's not the preference entering, however, as the Mountaineers have executed in sets well over the four games since its loss to Tennessee. WVU has shot 53.6 percent from the floor (133-248) while forcing 81 turnovers, an average of more than 20 per game that has offset a rebounding edge of just three.