This game could be a wild ride. West Virginia is one of those teams that can make you look real good or real bad. Their full-court pressure defense has given plenty of teams fits this season, but they also lost to Texas and OU by a combined 46 points. To get some more info on a team that I, personally, find very enjoyable, we sent some questions over to The Smoking Musket, and Matt Kirchner was kind enough to answer.
PC: Last season, Juwan Staten averaged nearly 38 minutes per game. This season, despite his minutes being down around 31 per game, the team has had much more success. How has the roster around Staten changed to allow him to get the rest he needs?
MK: It's a super clichéd answer, and I'm rolling my eyes even as I type it, but WVU is a real basketball "team" this season. We're getting contributions from nearly everyone in our rotation and you never really know where the points are going to come from.
Eron Harris and Terry Henderson were both tremendous scorers, don't get me wrong, but now we have players willing and able to be the total package and make sacrifices for the team. That didn't exist last year.
PC: From what I’ve watched this season, West Virginia seems like a miserable team to play against. That full-court press is dogged and menacing. How much of the Mountaineers' success can be traced to the defense?
MK: At least 98% of it, to be honest. We live and die by the press creating transition scoring opportunities, for better or for worse. Now, obviously that's a scary way to play but it's the reality.
Our struggles come in the half court, so the defense is imperative for this team.
PC: WVU has taken the third most threes per game in Big 12 play, but they’re only shooting 27.4% on those attempts. Are you worried that the outside shooting struggles could cost the team a big game or two down the road, or are there other factors that mitigate any worry over subpar three-point shooting?
MK: It already has against Iowa State and LSU, and frankly it's an enormous concern for this team going forward as they hit the murderers row part of the schedule.
Our half court offense can be a mess at times and the big problem is that there's not much of a Plan B when the scary awful press of death doesn't work. While Plan A is super successful and works most of the time, we are very much a live by the sword and die by the sword team.
PC: What have teams done to break the frenzy-inducing press successfully? How has the WVU defense been once the press is broken and the ball moves into the half court?
MK: Texas was probably the most successful at breaking it and did it mostly by playing at a super fast pace off our makes. Making quick passes to talented big men and then dunking before we could really do anything about it.
Our half court D is still tenacious though, and once it's broken, we go straight into some man-to-man trapping looks. We're always attempting to force a turnover. Like I've said, we depend on it.
PC: How do you see this game playing out? Does WVU have the passing and driving ability necessary to break down Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone and score at the rim? Can WVU defend Baylor once the press is broken and hold them to one shot? Got a score prediction?
MK: Ugh. Zones. God.
I've been scared of this match up for a while because of the constant zone look we'll be facing.
It's likely going to be somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, and I think that WVU rides the home crowd to a close win. 74-70 or something like that.
Like I've said, we have to force turnovers. Sitting in the half court offense for 40 minutes will lead us to an awful, awful death.
We're still gonna have to hit shots at some point, which has happened (see the first OU game) and if that can happen, WVU wins big.
It would seem there is mutual dread on both sides. Thanks again to Matt for his helpfulness.