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Previewing West Virginia: See their press, see their press, built from real program duress

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia @ StatSheet
West Virginia roster
West Virginia schedule
West Virginia 2014 stats / 2015 stats

West Virginia Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 50.4 (129) 14.2 (7) 32.4 (138) 39.1(209)
2014-15 45.4 (267) 15.8 (17) 43.5 (5) 39.9 (129)

Seven months ago, Bob Huggins was answering questions about the health of his program after missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. West Virginia endured a couple of high-profile transfers that left it without two of its top three scorers last season, and that includes Terry Henderson, who's now with NC State. The other big name departure was Eron Harris, who left for Michigan State.

"We're going to be fine," Huggins said after Henderson's departure. "We are fine." I don't know how many people bought those remarks at the time, but turns out he was right. The Mountaineers appear back on track for an NCAA tournament bid despite the personnel losses.

But it's not WVU's offense that's likely to lead the team back there. The departures gutted WVU's outside shooting depth, and the Mountaineers rank just 293rd in three-point field goal percentage this season. They still have senior guard Juwan Staten to run the show for them, but scoring efficiently has never been a strength of his, and he's been left with less-proven support around him.

West Virginia has also struggled to make twos (46.4%, 212th nationally) and free throws (65.3%, 265th nationally). Fortunately for the Mountaineers, they're taking exceptional care of the ball, and they've been brilliant at generating second-chance opportunities for themselves.

Those two factors can take you quite a ways despite substandard shooting--WVU ranks 58th in adjusted offensive efficiency through 10 games. That represents a significant decline from last season, but it's something Huggins can manage; the shortcomings here aren't going to cripple WVU's season. That is assuming of course that ball security and offensive rebounding remain strengths.

In light of all this, the big-picture key for NC State's defense is clear: rebound the ball! WVU doesn't commit turnovers and NC State doesn't force them. WVU is going to get a lot of shots at the rim whether it gets offensive boards or not; the more boards the Mountaineers do grab, the more they can mitigate what probably will be a bad overall shooting effort.


Juwan Staten (6-1, 195) -- Whether he's handling the scoring himself or distributing the ball, Staten will be dictating what West Virginia does offensively. He can give WVU a little bit of everything and is even trying to stretch his range a bit--after trying 15 threes all of last season, he's attempted 17 already in 2014-15. His bread and butter is attacking, not lingering around the three-point line; he's got a knack for drawing fouls and he's also able to play this style without committing too many turnovers. A trip to the line is a good outcome for him since he has your typical short guy scoring issues in the paint. He's a 44% shooter inside the arc for his career and sits at 42.6% this season.

Daxter Miles (6-3, 185) -- Shooting about 35% from three and 46% from two, with his attempts from those areas split down the middle. On the defensive side, he has a good steal rate, but then again just about everyone on this team does. (I'm gettin' to that.)

Jaysean Paige (6-2, 200) -- Paige is one of several junior college additions that WVU made during the offseason and so far looks like a nice addition. He's off to a 12-26 shooting start from beyond the arc, while his offensive rebounding percentage is above average for his height.

Jonathan Holton (6-7, 220) -- In his lone season at Rhode Island, Holton was 16-84 (18.6%) from three; this season he is 3-24 (12.5%). Might be about time for an intervention, because he's shown he can be an effective scorer inside the arc, this year especially. He's also a good shot blocker and excellent rebounder at both ends.

Devin Williams (6-9, 255) -- After making 41.4% his twos as a freshman last year, he's at 37% as a sophomore. This is a problem because the cold shooting hasn't deterred him--he has an above-average workload. On the plus side, he's a fantastic rebounder and capable of drawing a whole bunch of fouls.

Bench & Defense

Elijah Macon (6-9, 240), Jevon Carter (6-2, 185), Tarik Phillip (6-3, 185), Gary Browne (6-1, 195), Nathan Adrian (6-9, 235). Carter is WVU's leading scorer off the bench at 8.4 PPG, but he's just 11-43 from beyond the arc, so that's not ideal. Hittin' 60% of his twos though.

If you see a tall feller on the floor for the Mountaineers, you can pretty much assume they rebound well offensively. Holton and Williams are grabbing a lot of them, as are Macon and Adrian. Adrian is more of an outside shooter despite his size, but figures to be a secondary option. Macon just needs to be more selective about his shots until he gets that FG% north of 40, at least.

West Virginia Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 50.6 (212) 18.5 (158) 32.5 (232) 41.6 (207)
2014-15 50.6 (235) 32.1 (1) 30.5 (163) 40.4 (225)

Huggins has an improved team this season because of the alterations he made defensively. This end of the floor was a serious problem for WVU in each of the last two seasons, which prompted Huggins to shift to a system that relies heavily on full-court pressure.

Huggins is running 10-deep, with nobody averaging more than 30 minutes per game and 10 dudes getting at least 12 minutes a night. The results are insane, as West Virginia is forcing turnovers at a nation-leading clip. They have the country's best steal percentage (19.0). They have forced 230 turnovers already--23 per game--and have a net turnover margin of +117.

That essentially means that WVU is getting a dozen extra effective possessions (possessions that do not end in a turnover) every night out. Twelve additional chances to score that its opponent doesn't get. No wonder the Mountaineers have 190 more field goal attempts (672-482) and 73 more free throw attempts (268-195) than their opponents.

Here's a look at how each of WVU's opponents have fared in the turnover department:

WVU Opponent TO%
Monmouth 35.1
Lafayette 28.8
George Mason 31.3
Boston College 32.6
UConn 26.5
VMI 42.8
College of Charleston 27.7
LSU** 30.4
Northern Kentucky 29.1
Marshall 35.5

(**WVU's lone defeat.)

A turnover rate of 26.5% is the best anybody has managed against the Mountaineers all year. That's one turnover out of every four possessions and it's the best anybody's done. Dang, man. Just dang.

If the Mountaineers' TO rate were to hold at 32.1 all season, it might be a record. Only one D-I program has finished a season above 30.0 since 2002 (Alabama A&M at 30.7% in 2002). Including only power-five schools, the best finish belongs to Texas A&M with a 27.3 TO% in 2006.

Okay, so West Virginia is doing an unreal job of forcing turnovers and it's had huge benefits for them. There are problems that typically come with this style of play, however, and Huggins lamented last week that his team's halfcourt defense has suffered.

"My fear was when we decided to press this way our half-court defense would really suffer, and it has. It's really suffered," Huggins said. "We're going to have to somehow fix it."

WVU opponents are shooting almost 52% inside the arc this season. The Mountaineers are only an average defensive rebounding team, which will be something to keep an eye on as the year progresses. If that starts to fade, this defense becomes less frightening.

They're also a little on the foul-prone side. So they've done one thing really insaneballsably well and everything else average or worse. There are areas to exploit for opposing offenses; the pesky damned trick is you gotta hang onto the ball in order to get at those areas.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes WVU by one.