WVU Must Improve Defensive Effort

WVU Must Improve Defensive Effort

Under head coach Bob Huggins, West Virginia used to take pride in its defensive effort.

The Mountaineers had become known for giving up no more than 70 points at times, especially during its Final Four run in 2010.

"Our guys want to win, so they know they have to do a good job guarding," Huggins said back then.

And guard they did. In 2010, through the Big East Conference and NCAA tournaments, the Mountaineers gave up 51, 51, 58, 50, 59, 56 and 66 points before it fell to Duke in the Final Four.

"They're very intense, very workmanlike, no nonsense," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright during that time. "There's not a lot of trash talk with them. They never lack for effort. They're not pretty, but they're totally committed to doing the little things that win games."

Oh how things have changed.

In the last six games, WVU has given up 86, 83, 77, 88, 88 and 83 points.

Through Huggins' first six seasons as head coach at West Virginia, his team gave up 80 or more points just 13 times. However, in the past two seasons, it has happened 20 times.

It's no wonder West Virginia hasn't been as successful since moving to the Big 12 Conference.

If the Mountaineers want to get back to its consistent winning ways, it needs to do one thing – focus on defense and play it with some effort.

No matter how many threes Eron Harris and crew hit each game, if they give up as many points as they have in the past six games, West Virginia is going to continue to live in .500 land.

No matter how many games that Juwan Staten does something that takes your breath away, if West Virginia's opponent does the same a few times each game, the Mountaineers will never break through.

There is no reason why the Mountaineers can't be a strong defensive team.

Huggins has had less athletic and talented teams in his years at WVU, and they've all been able to find success on the defensive end.

Why? Those teams gave effort on that side of the ball.

This season, West Virginia seems, at times, to just not care much about defense – going with the 2012 football team's theme of attempting to outscore opponents to win.

WVU is awful at times defensively – there's no reason to pull punches at this point in the season. It's bad.

The Mountaineers, for example, cut the Iowa State lead to four points midway through the second half on Wednesday, then immediately gave up back-to-back 3-pointers due to a lack of defensive pressure.

When cutting the lead back to single digits later on, the Mountaineers let Iowa State right in the lane or right down the baselines … where it was on the court really didn't matter, because the Cyclones got what they wanted, where they wanted it no matter the situation.

It happened over and over again in Ames, Iowa. The Mountaineers just didn't have a response. No change in defense – whether man or zone or a combination of both – can have any effect if the players in said defense don't try.

It's late February. Youth can not be an excuse anymore for this team. A lack of inside presence isn't either. Sure, West Virginia doesn't have a senior and doesn't have an inside presence, but, on Wednesday, the Mountaineers weren't beaten because of that. They were beaten by weak 3-point defense and overall defensive effort. There's really no excuse for that considering the stakes.

Huggins talked at length last Saturday about the team's lack of commitment. Don't get me wrong … West Virginia gave effort and commitment against Iowa State. It just doesn't give enough consistent effort on defense, though. It lacks a commitment on that side of the ball it doesn't seem to miss on the other.

It must be odd for Huggins, who can't be used to teams who just don't want to play defense. His career has proven that you can win by harassing teams and frustrating them on that side of the ball.

If the Mountaineers want to challenge for a Big 12 title or make it back to the NCAA tournament next year, it has to fix one glaring weakness – defense. If Huggins can get it through to his team that as much effort needs to be made on that side of the ball as it gives on the offensive side, West Virginia could be pretty good.

Until then, the Mountaineers might as well sit back and get used to feeling disappointed on Selection Sunday.

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