If you were looking to go through about 10 different emotions on Saturday, from hopelessness to utter disbelief, then I hope you were watching West Virginia play Texas on ABC.
West Virginia somehow pieced together a 19-point comeback on the road in a place they hadn’t won a game in since 2017. The Mountaineers should be proud of their second 19-point comeback of the season, but they should still be concerned.
Texas is a good team, there’s no denying that, but Texas shouldn’t have had the opportunities like it did in the first half — shot 70% from the floor in the first half, for example. WVU was clearly lacking interior defense and UT forward Jericho Sims was looking like he was going to have a double-double by halftime before he picked up his second foul.
Of course, down by 10 at halftime, head coach Bob Huggins made some defensive adjustments with the Mountaineers moving primarily to a zone defense in the second half. That worked, with Texas only scoring 29 points in the second half after putting up 53 in the first and the Longhorn shooting attack not being nearly as potent.
Another turning point seemed to come from a clear dispute between Texas guards Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones. It’s unclear whether that had a large effect on the Longhorns or not, but it sure made an impact on this game.
West Virginia has been able to shoot well most of the season, but there have been multiple games where the Mountaineers are spotting their opponents a 10-point lead. It’s great that WVU can score, but if there isn’t any defense, the Mountaineers will be having to mount serious comebacks throughout the rest of the year.
In the first meeting with Texas Tech that ended with a game-winning layup from Miles McBride, WVU fell behind by as much as 12 with 7:13 to go. Luckily for the Mountaineers, they finished the game shooting 7-for-7 from the field to win it, 88-87.
In the first 19-point comeback, West Virginia trailed with 11:15 remaining. Led by McBride and Taz Sherman, the Mountaineers outscored the Cowboys 38-16 in the final minutes to win 87-84.
Both of these teams are good, but in both games there was no reason why West Virginia should’ve fallen behind by as much as it did except for poor shooting. If the Mountaineers can’t hit shots, there isn’t a defense for them to lean on to stay in the game.
The Baylor Bears have been a clear national title contender all year and they do it with offense, but also with defense. The Bears currently rank No. 2 in scoring offense in NCAA Division I basketball with 87 points per game. Baylor also ranks No. 19 in scoring defense in Division I basketball as it only allows 62.8 points per game.
The Bears are an explosive scoring team, but when they need defensive stops, they get them. If West Virginia wants to be in the realm of national championship contenders, the defense has to take a major step forward before the NCAA Tournament.
It’s tough to say what defense West Virginia needs to utilize to improve defensively because, like Huggins said after the Texas game, most defensive sets rely on personnel. The zone defense worked well for WVU against Texas and I think going primarily to the zone could be more beneficial for the Mountaineers. It allows you to spread the floor but it also keeps the ball in front without forcing your weaker defenders to play one-on-one.
If the Mountaineers replicate what they did in the second half against Texas, they can be a national title contender. When you pair that defense with the offense West Virginia has, this team can beat anyone.