Pitt basketball braces for a full night of pressure against West Virginia
Like every coach who must play West Virginia, Pitt's Kevin Stallings is wary of the Mountaineers' full-court pressure defense.
But he must deal with another dilemma while preparing his team for the 185th installment of the Backyard Brawl — the first meeting in five years — Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
“Their half-court pressure is just as good, if not better, than their full-court pressure,” he said.
“It's not just a matter of, ‘OK, you can breathe deeply and take a sigh of relief when you get the ball past half court.' Their half-court defense is outstanding.”
No. 18 West Virginia (8-1) leads the nation in turnover margin (plus-10), creating 192 and committing 102. Pitt (5-4) is approaching the depths of NCAA Division I in turnovers, ranking 303rd of 341 teams with a minus-2.6 margin (10 7⁄130).
What's most striking about West Virginia's defense is there is no rest from it.
Pitt junior Jared Wilson-Frame has spent the past two days preparing, including watching video of five West Virginia games. Asked how many times he saw the Mountaineers sit back in a conventional defense without pressing, he calmly answered, “Zero.”
Calm might be the key for Pitt in its ability to challenge West Virginia, the first ranked team on its schedule this season.
Although the game could turn into a mismatch if Pitt can't protect the ball, it might become a 40-minute teaching moment for Stallings' young team. Pitt will play No. 1 Duke, No. 10 Miami, plus games at Louisville and Virginia Tech, in the first 12 days of the ACC season.
“What West Virginia really does well is they try to force you to make decisions on the move,” Stallings said. “They're really good at it. They're good at speeding you up. You have to play the game as under control as possible.”
“They jump around a lot; they get really amped and excited,” Wilson-Frame said.
Stallings has attempted to simulate West Virginia's athleticism by putting more than five players on the floor against his regular ballhandlers in practice.
“You can simulate it for a possession or two or three,” he said, “but it's 40 minutes. Every time you take the ball out of bounds, you're going to see pressure and good pressure.
“You can be prepared for it, but at times there's a cumulative effect to it. That's the thing you really can't prepare for.”