For roughly 25 bucks on Saturday afternoon, you could purchase a ticket for the WVU-Ohio State's men's basketball game at Value City Arena. Unbeknownst to the 19,049 announced attendees who shelled out the cash for Saturday's marquee non-conference showdown, they also got admission to something else – a college basketball coaching clinic, courtesy of WVU head coach Bob Huggins and his staff.
Consider this: the Buckeyes owned the nation's longest winning streak (14 games dating back to last season's NIT championship run), entered the game ranked 13th and were playing at home. West Virginia? Unranked, on the road, and playing its third game in seven days.
From the game's outset, it looked like OSU would protect its home court, racing out to a quick lead in the first half's opening minutes. After a jumper by Evan Turner gave Ohio State an 8-3 lead and sent the home crowd into a frenzy, Huggins signaled for a 30-second timeout. As is his custom in such situations, he marched out to meet his team on the court wearing a sizeable scowl and spewing out a solid stream of…advice.
"We were really tentative," Huggins said of his team's early struggles. "When you are as small as we are, you have to continually try to put pressure on people and I didn't think our ball pressure was very good. We didn't force them out the way we need to force people out to be good defensively. We were tentative offensively and we held the ball too much. That's a lot to say in a 30-second timeout."
It may be, but Huggins didn't have to say much more from that point on. His Mountaineers responded with an 11-0 run, seizing the lead for good en route to running the previously-undefeated Buckeyes out of their own gym.
Conventional wisdom might lead one to think that big games such as this require big, elaborate game plans and schemes from the coaching staff. And while that may be true in some circumstances, it was not the case on Saturday.
In fact, Huggins admittedly scaled back his team's offensive game plan in hopes of keeping Ohio State and head coach Thad Matta guessing as to what was coming next. Instead of barking out set after set against the aggressive 1-2-2 half-court matchup zone deployed by OSU, West Virginia opted to stick to its most basic of offensive attacks on the way to the 28-point shellacking.
"When you are playing matchup is that it's much easier to guard structure," Huggins explained afterward. "I don't coach (the Buckeyes) and I don't profess to know what Thad does, but we just thought in looking at film that the less structure we had (the more productive the offense could be).
"They really bump well," he continued. "They really do a heck of a job. When they keep their bigs close to the basket, it's hard to get anything close. All we wanted to do was just kind of spread them and not have a whole lot of structure. We didn't have someone who was going to reverse the ball, but we still wanted to get ball reversal. We didn't want structure. We didn't want them to know where we were coming from. Sets are much easier to guard."
On his way to racking up more than 600 career victories, Huggins has undoubtedly won games with countless different schemes and strategies for attacking a particular opponent. In planning for the battle with the Buckeyes, he drew from past experiences in which his teams have played a matchup zone.
"We've played a lot of matchup, and the people that are hard to guard are the people that one, have a lot of movement and two, people who don't have structure," Huggins said. "When you know what they're going to run, it's a lot easier to guard. You can switch things and do a lot of different things. We just didn't want to give them a lot of structure. We didn't do the same thing all the time."
Since taking over the program at his alma mater in April of 2007, Huggins has consistently mentioned his theory of not so much teaching the players certain, set plays, but rather how to play. By doing so, he has noted, more freedom can take place within the offense, so long as those core fundamentals and pillars are mastered. Never was this more evident than it was on Saturday afternoon, and as a result, West Virginia cruised to its biggest win of the season.