MORGANTOWN — The beauty of a Bob Huggins coached team is that he doesn’t dictate the style of offense or defense they play.
Instead, he let’s the players dictate it to him through their abilities.
What he does dictate is an attitude, an approach where hard work is revered and where toughness reigns supreme.
Halfway into this season it has become readily apparent that if he could draw up what he wants out of a team he has it right now.
This is a team that comes ready to rumble, a team with unique skills that believes in what he believes in — defense, rebounding and team over individual.
It has the makings of a great defensive team, though its approach is not out of the Press Virginia school that made them something different and something that opponents dreaded facing.
While their switching, rotating, in-your-face defense allows you to bring the ball up court, once you cross that midcourt line you face a group of what seem like hungry grizzly bears.
Ask Chris Beard, the latest victim with his Texas Tech team.
“I like this team for West Virginia,” he said following Saturday’s Mountaineer win. “It has coach (Bob) Huggins’ DNA. They’re tough. They play together, they have a lot of balance, a lot of different players. They were as good as advertised. They gave us more than we could handle tonight.”
He didn’t come with excuses for their poor offensive showing, knowing that it was the result of how WVU approached the game.
“I hate the coach that gets up here and talks about how we couldn’t make a shot. The reason we couldn’t make a shot was the other team was well-coached, has good players, was dialed in and played great defense,” Beard said.
True, Texas Tech missed a lot of easy shots, but were they really easy or were they rushed because the shot clock was running down, or they’d been pressured for 30 seconds, or were looking for Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver to come block their shot, something they did early and often to set the mood for the evening?
“I think that is great to start like that, to make a team scared a little bit,” Tshiebwe said.
“We watch them play against Oklahoma State. I watched them against Baylor. I saw they penetrated most of the time and they were good shooters,” Tshiebwe continued. “Coach said you look and see someone is penetrating, go get it done, block the shot. I know when they came in so far they were going to try to finish it, so that’s why I got those blocks.”
There is no doubt the WVU defense is difficult to adjust to and that it gets under the skin and into the heart of the opposing offense.
Brandon Knapper says you can see it in their faces.
WVU’s goal is to make the game as ugly as it can. It’s a knife fight, not a beauty pageant.
“That’s our key focus, take them out of their offense. Coach is always telling us, keep the ball in one guy’s hands, make him dribble. If they pass the ball, that’s bad on our defensive side,” Knapper said.
“If we keep the ball in one guy’s hands, take them out of their offense, that’s a win on our side.”
And when that happens, they turn up the heat.
“You see it in the other team. They start arguing with each other. You see it in their face. They start pouting, and that turns us up. You see it in their eyes and that’s when we’re going to go in for the kill,” Knapper said.
What makes it so different than anything else the opponents see is the way Tshiebwe and Culver defend, two big men who can step out on the perimeter .... not to shoot the 3, but to defend it.
“We are so much bigger than the other ball handlers. You don’t see 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-11 guys out there guarding ball handlers,” Culver said. “It’s actually fun. I like to challenge myself out there. I feel it’s like a feather in my cap because I don’t see a lot of bigs out there doing that.”
The thing is these are not typical big men who don’t move as fast as smaller players.
“The little guys think they can blow past me, but they really can’t blow past me,” Culver said. “They get like a half of a step on me, but I’m fast enough to catch up. They may be a little faster but I’m almost as fast so I can use my size. If I use my speed and my size I will win the battle.”
And think how intimidating he must look closing in on a 3-point shooter.
“[Texas Tech guard Davide] Moretti was out in the corner and I knew he was about to shoot it and I closed out on him hard and he came back down on his tippy toes and passed it out. I know if I didn’t run as hard as I did at him he was going to shoot it,” Culver said.
“Our coaches really do a good job of preparing us week in and week out with a game plan, like knowing who the shooters are, which is their dominant hand, what’s their tendencies, who they like to kick the ball out to,” Culver added.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.