After a 15-21 season in 2018-19, the West Virginia men’s basketball team has made a turnaround that not many saw coming, primarily built with a stifling defense.
Last year’s squad spent a large majority of the time taking the ball out of the basket and then struggling to score at the other end. This season is a different story.
The Mountaineers are giving up 59.3 points per game, while holding teams to 35% from the field and 24% from three-point range. After four games in conference play, WVU has only surrendered an average of 51 points per game while holding two opponents to under 50.
Despite what the numbers say, the coaches and players still feel there is room to improve.
“Even though we are guarding the perimeter good, we can guard it better,” junior forward Gabe Osabuohien said after the 81-49 victory over TCU on Tuesday. “We let them get a couple of easy layups today. Just being mentally locked in for the whole possession. We have flashes of it, but when we get to the point where we are doing it every possession, that’s when we are going to be a great team.
Osabuohien has been a major contributor to this Mountaineer team since gaining immediate eligibility by the NCAA to play after transferring from Arkansas. His season high in points came twice this season, when he had four against St. John’s and Austin Peay, but his effort and intensity on the defensive end has made him a fan favorite for WVU fans.
“I just try to come in and play as hard as I can,” Osabuohien said. “When I play as hard as I can and the rest of my teammates see that, and they play at the same intensity level, it’s a beautiful thing.”
One thing this Mountaineer team has an advantage over most teams they play is depth, with WVU often playing 12 different guys per game. This depth allows those on the floor to play as hard as they can without the worry of burning out. With so many new faces, it can be an adjustment to learn how to play together, but this team seems to be figuring it out.
“It just took some time,” senior guard Chase Harler said. “We had seven new guys come in, and the way we play defense, it seems chaotic but there’s definitely structure to it and it just took some time to get used to.”
Head coach Bob Huggins still thinks this team has not reached its full potential on defense either, particularly with its perimeter defense.
“I still think we got a ways to go,” Huggins said. “We screwed up some switches. We gave them too many open looks. I thought we did a better job the game before [against Texas Tech] of challenging shots. There were times when we did a great job, but it wasn’t as consistent, I didn’t think.”