Contributors, Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Pitt’s 32 turnovers could be sign WVU’s defense is returning to form under Bob Huggins

In his most respectful coach-speak possible Thursday, Bob Huggins tried to explain Pitt’s shocking 15-point loss against The Citadel as simply Pitt players “not expecting” the type of play Citadel players threw at them.

“They’ll expect what they get from us,” Huggins continued.

After watching WVU run away with their fifth consecutive victory against the Panthers, this one a 74-59 victory in front of a sold-out 14,100 people inside the Coliseum on Friday, we’re not exactly sure if Pitt players really did know what to expect.

If they did, we almost wonder if it would have made any difference?

Like, if Huggins, who tied Bob Knight for fifth place on the all-time Division I wins list with 902 career victories, had walked down the sideline and handed the Panthers his game plan, it may not have made any difference in the final outcome.

That is how far these Panthers have fallen. Three years of players forming a constant line out of the Petersen Events Center and into the transfer portal, along with injuries and unfortunate suspensions have taken a sad toll.

What’s been left behind in Pitt uniforms struggled mightily against the constant pressure of WVU point guard Kedrian Johnson, the tenacity of Gabe Osabuhien and the rim protecting of Dimon Carrigan.

“As you guys know, Bob Huggins’ basketball teams are known for being hard-nosed and defensive-minded,” said WVU forward Jalen Bridges, who finished with 18 points and six rebounds. “All we try to do is harass their guards and harass their bigs and try to create turnovers.”

In short, maybe, just maybe, the Mountaineers are getting back to playing some defense.

That’s what was missing a season ago, when a lot of WVU games ended up as some type of shoot-out in the 80s with shots going up and in at break-neck speed generally because WVU defenders couldn’t stop drives to the basket or got lost in chasing down a 3-point shooter.

That wasn’t the case against Oakland in the season opener and it certainly wasn’t the case on Friday against the Panthers.

Now we realize that neither team is projected to make the NCAA tournament — or in Pitt’s case the NIT — so it may be too early to project these Mountaineers as the second coming of the Ministers of Defense.

Still, Pitt turned the ball over 32 times on Friday. The Panthers two point guards combined for 12 of them. That’s on top of the 13 turnovers that came from Oakland’s point guard on Tuesday, which is the most in a WVU game by any one player.

WVU has forced 57 turnovers through two games. Those are numbers very comparable to when WVU was known as “Press” Virginia a few years back.

Except these Mountaineers aren’t full-court pressing. Instead, Johnson and teammate Malik Curry constantly hound the opposing point guard and basically beat them into submission.

“Our point guards are some pests,” WVU guard Taz Sherman said. “If you have a point guard and a backup that can speed up the opposing team’s point guard every single play and run them into Gabe (Osabuohien) or run them into our shot blockers, it makes a big difference.”

There are other things to note, such as Pitt came away with a commanding 36-20 advantage in rebounds and the Panthers still shot 57.5% (23 of 40) when they could get a shot off, but when you factor in the turnovers, those numbers really aren’t quite as daunting.

“I think this is how we have to play,” Huggins said. “We’re not big enough to go slug it out with people, so we’re going to have to make them play the way we play. We’re going to have to make them play faster. We’re going to have to make them put their head down and drive it at us. We can’t go down there and set up and let them play.”

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