"I think we need to score more than 60," Huggins said. "I know they will score more than 60. We have to execute a little better offensively. Then we have to play with the same kind of intensity we did (against Providence)."
The stats back the statement. West Virginia (19-8, 8-6 Big East) is unbeaten in Big East play when it scores 60-plus points. It has lost all six games in which it failed to reach that mark. There are numerous reasons for that, from turnovers to lack of rebounding, shooting or offensive flow. The 60-point mark isn't some magic number, and 70 might be more the mark, as just one of the last 15 teams to play WVU has scored more than that. When the Mountaineers are reaching 60 points or more, the obvious reasons are better play in nearly all phases. And for a team centered on scoring whose self worth, according to Huggins, is "wrapped up in whether we make jump shots or not," scoring seems to be the ointment for what ails. When the points pile up, the intensity and pressure on foes increases.
West Virginia will need to slow guard Draelon Burns, a 6-4, 210-pounder who averages a team-best 17.2 points. His slashing style and off-the-dribble ability will challenge Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler, the two Mountaineers who figure to see the majority of match-up time with the senior. Especially in Ruoff's case, it seems offense spurs all other aspects of the game. If the junior can hit shots early, his defensive effort and hustle betters. The Providence game was a prime example. Ruoff made six of 14 shots, but went just two of seven from 3-point range. Yet he had enough makes to provide the confidence to attack inbounds passes and body-up foes. At one point, he scored on a breakaway lay-up, then slapped away an inbounds pass before recovering it and maintaining possession by throwing it off a Friar player.
It's that kind of intensity that Huggins must see against DePaul. A road win is a must if West Virginia has any hope of making the NCAA Tournament barring an unexpected run. The Mountaineers packed it in against Villanova and Cincinnati when they were physically beaten – which led to mental breakdowns.
"Hopefully we make shots," Huggins said. "We have not shot it well on the road. You have to defend and rebound. With DePaul, you have to limit their easy baskets. They do a good job of leaking out into transition. I have known Jerry forever and he really does a great job. I think Draelon Burns is really good. He just breaks the defense down so well. Then you have good size inside. They will guard and be extremely well prepared. They have lot a lot of close games. They had UConn down and have been unfortunate – like some other people I know."
Besides trying to gain easy points, DePaul will try at attack down low with two 6-10 plays. That has yet to be particularly effective, leaving the majority of the production to guard play. The Blue Demons (10-16, 5-9) don't shoot well from outside, making points tough to come by. That's an area of advantage for WVU; if it can click early and be intelligently aggressive within the motion sets, it can reach 20 wins for the fourth consecutive season for the first time since 1981-87 when it did it six straight years.
"The reality is, we are playing more games, so we better get to 20 wins," said Huggins, who is 26-8 all-time versus DePaul, including a loss last season in the second round of the NIT. "We are going to play 31 games. We have to win 20. It's not what it used to be because there are so many more games. You know, when I was an assistant at Ohio State they were in the same (NCAA Tournament) region we were. But they lost so we did not get to play them. But I know Jerry well enough."
Note: The two teams have played just twice previously: last season when WVU won 64-52 in Morgantown and in 1945 when the Mountaineers lost 76-52 in the NIT. DePaul is the lone Big East team to never have hosted West Virginia.