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Slow to adjust to the Big 12’s arduous travel schedule and unfamiliar style of play, West Virginia finished 13-19 in its first season in the league and lost in the opening round of the NIT the following year.
Huggins hadn’t missed two straight NCAA tournaments in more than two decades, so he decided it was time to make a change before the 2014-15 season.
Hoping for some advice on whether to press and how best to teach it, Huggins sought out an old adversary hailed as a master of full-court pressure.
Ex-Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey took the Vikings to their lone Sweet 16 in 1986 using a press that he nicknamed the “Run and Stun.” As he is quick to point out, he also inflicted some damage on Huggins, who coached at nearby Akron in those days.“We played six times,” Mackey said with a chuckle.
To West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, those numbers reflect his team’s increased comfort level with the full-court press after three seasons running it full-time.
That’s encouraging to Huggins even if some slippage is inevitable once the Mountaineers begin Big 12 play and encounter stronger opponents who are more familiar with the press.“Hopefully we’ve gotten a little better coaching it and a little better playing it,” Huggins said.
“The Run and Stun won five of them.”At a time when most coaches are too conservative to commit to pressing for all 40 minutes, Mackey describes himself as one of the last of the true believers.
He’s adamant full-court pressure can be especially effective now in an era rife with players who are longer, faster and more athletic but often less skilled.
This season, West Virginia appears to have fixed many of its previous problems without sacrificing any of the aggressiveness that makes the press fearsome.“Three years of practicing it, you get a little better each day,” senior forward Nathan Adrian said. We’re keeping our hands up and not reaching so much.A staff member also charts what sectors of the floor opponents inbound the ball to and where it goes afterward, enabling Huggins to subsequently tweak mid-game where the trap points will be.Whatever variation of the press West Virginia runs, opposing coaches say the key to beating it is to attack in transition when you cross mid-court with numbers in your favor.Full-court pressure was an appealing option to Huggins because it accentuated West Virginia’s ample depth and athleticism and covered up its poor outside shooting.
The transfer of second- and third-leading scorers Eron Harris and Terry Henderson left the Mountaineers lacking perimeter threats besides standout Juwan Staten.
Once the ball is inbound, West Virginia will try to force the dribbler into certain hot spots on the floor that are most vulnerable to traps.