West Virginia changing style of play at start of Big 12 slate

MORGANTOWN — The start of Big 12 play has officially brought out Plan B for West Virginia and coach Bob Huggins.

What was once a season built on the premise of stretching out defenses on offense and pressing, trapping and blocking shots on defense has been overhauled.

In its place is a more detailed plan of attack, one built on slowing things down and breaking down games one possession at a time.

Before, the Mountaineers’ focus was anything but deliberate. They were hell-bent on creating confusion and chaos with their “Press Virginia” style of play. They didn’t worry about each individual possession so much, as long as they were getting more of them than the opponent.

West Virginia’s pace was fast and furious and there was constant movement and there was no telling what was about to happen.

“It would be great to go in the gym and run up and down all the time for 40 minutes each game,” WVU point guard Jordan McCabe said. “That’s really not who we are right now. Everything we do counts. Our pace has changed, no doubt about it.”

Offensive possessions are a study of taking what the defense gives you and looking for the best available shot, which will take more time off the shot clock.

“It takes a lot of focus and all the little things become more important,” West Virginia forward Esa Ahmad said. “Loose balls to turnovers to rebounds, each possession really counts. Before, we could capitalize on getting more possessions.”

Defensively, too, becomes a case study of getting back into position and forcing the opponent to work the ball around.

It’s not sexy. It’s not “Press Virginia,” but it is the basic style that Huggins used to lead the Mountaineers to the 2010 Final Four.

“I just know that it’s probably going to have to be the way we have to play,” Huggins said. “We can’t play the way we played before. I’ve looked down our bench and we’re pretty thin there.”

Running more plays and sets will likely become the Mountaineers’ path, as possession becomes its own sort of storylines that leads to the final outcome.

Good defense will be less about creating steals and turnovers and more about keeping opponents’ shooting percentages down and rebounding.

“When you look and see how the pace was tonight,” McCabe said after the Mountaineers fell to Texas, 61-54, last Saturday. “That’s probably the pace that we’ll see a lot more of in this league.”

As the Mountaineers (8-6, 0-2 Big 12) travel to Manhattan, Kan. for Wednesday’s game against Kansas State (10-4, 0-2), it will be a matchup of two similar styles.

Both teams are scoring less than 60 points per game in conference play and both teams are missing key pieces to their rosters.

While Sagaba Konate is out for the Mountaineers with a knee injury, Kansas State is missing forward Dean Wade, the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year, with a foot injury.

“We’re going to have to work a little harder to get good shots,” McCabe said. “That’s what it comes down to when you play a little slower. You’re not going as fast, so it helps to keep guys patient, but you also have to work harder and move the ball around to get the defense in the spots where you want it.”

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