Style adjustment benefits WVU men's basketball team
By John Harris
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Bob Huggins hadn't experienced a losing season in 31 years. When his West Virginia team went 13-19 a season ago, Huggins acted predictably and swiftly.
Officially, Huggins didn't force players to leave, but five members from last season's team requested and received their release to transfer.
In their place, Huggins signed new players. Two of them — freshman forwards Nathan Adrian and Devin Williams — are starters.
Under Huggins, the Mountaineers this year developed a new identity on offense, featuring versatile frontcourt players.
Huggins is satisfied with WVU's 8-5 start.
“We change every year,” Huggins said. “You have to change every year, because you have different personnel every year, you have different personalities every year. We are so much more of a perimeter-oriented team.
“We pretty much played a year ago inside out, where now we don't. We get our touches and get the ball driving to the basket, rather than trying to throw it in there.”
A season ago, Huggins' biggest lament during West Virginia's first season in the Big 12 was having too many frontcourt players with Big East-ready low-post skills, but not enough big men who could dribble and shoot from the perimeter.
By adding perimeter-oriented forwards Remi Dibo and Adrian — who have made the second- and third-most 3-pointers on the team — Huggins addressed those concerns.
The transformation has been startling. The Mountaineers average more than 80 points after averaging 66.1 points in 2012-13. After averaging 5.3 3-pointers a season ago, the Mountaineers average more than eight 3-pointers this season.
“This is a different league,” Huggins said. “It's a different league with different styles. It's more of a perimeter-skill league, where I think the Big East was a big, strong, physical, almost bruising league. We tried to recruit more perimeter scorers. There were a lot of adjustments that we needed to make.”
ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said Huggins' decision to change the roster was perfectly timed.
“I saw them a lot last year. Honestly, they weren't very good,” Fraschilla said. “I don't necessarily agree it was changing conference styles of play. After all those good years, they just got short-handed, talent-wise. I just think his roster didn't have a lot of Big 12 or Big East players.”
Some of those players, including sophomore guard Eron Harris and junior guard Juwan Staten, have stepped up their games. Harris leads the Mountaineers in scoring and 3-pointers; Staten ranks first in assists and steals.
“Coach Huggins is different than any coach I've ever played for,” said Staten, a transfer from Dayton. “It took awhile to understand the things that he wanted from me.”
Huggins' offensive emphasis didn't mean he wanted his players to slack off defensively. Once Staten bought into what Huggins wanted, he became a different player.
“I wanted to pick up my defense and let the offense build off of defense because I know Coach is definitely big on defense,” Staten said.
WVU played a strong nonconference schedule, featuring games against Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri and Gonzaga — all losses. Fraschilla said a better way to evaluate Huggins' personnel changes will occur when the Mountaineers open Big 12 play next month.
“I've only seen them in bits and pieces so far, but it seems like they've improved,” Fraschilla said. “They're playing better, but it's still nonconference. Beating Loyola by 30 points doesn't tell me as much as if they go to Oklahoma or Texas and play really well.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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