It was inevitable.
Sooner or later it was bound to happen.
OK, it was later, but veteran West Virginia University men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins has joined the 21st century-style of playing basketball.
That means spreading the floor. That means utilizing spacing. That means pick-and-rolls. That means isolations. And, most of all, that means shooting 3-pointers.
Lots and lots and lots of 3-pointers.
Granted, Huggins didn’t abandon his old-school ways of pounding the ball into the post and dominating the glass of his own volition. No way. He was forced into it.
When 6-foot-9, 260-pound Oscar Tshiebwe abandoned ship and transferred to the University of Kentucky, that literally got the ball rolling. Then, when 6-10, 240-pound true freshman Isaiah Cottrell tore an Achilles tendon just a couple days later, it forced Huggins to adjust.
The only post players the Mountaineers had left were center 6-10, 255-pound junior Derek Culber and 6-7, 235-pound forward Gabe Osabuohien. Sure, there is also 6-10, 235-pound true freshman Seny Ndiaye, but he isn’t even close to being ready to play.
So, without glass-eating, rim-bending, board-pounding big men, what’s a coach to do?
Like it or not, he has to adjust. There simply aren’t any other options. So, to Huggins’ credit, that’s what he did.
It wasn’t his first choice — or second or third — but a coach has to do what he has to do to win. And first, last and always, Huggins is all about winning.
So, the Mountaineers have joined the trend started by Mike D’Antoni and his older brother, Danny, which has spread from the NBA to international to college and even high school hoops.
And yes, people have noticed the change.
“Even West-by-gawd University of Southern Pennsylvania has decided to go four-out and one-in and open it up,” hollered Marshall University coach Danny D’Antoni with a huge grin on his face during a recent Zoom meeting.
“You know, it’s kind of the way you have to play now. People fight it. Old-school people got to fight it. But it’s the easiest way to score and allows players to develop and be better players.”
The evidence was in WVU’s 88-87 win over Texas Tech last Monday. Six Mountaineers scored in double figures, including all five starters. Starting point guard Jordan McCabe scored 10 points in 24 minutes. Combo guard Deuce McBride scored 24 points, including the game-winning shot. Wing Taz Sherman had 10 points in 29 minutes of playing time. Jalen Bridges scored 13 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, in 19 minutes. And Culver contributed 10 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes.
And don’t forget Sean McNeil. He came off the bench to score 13 points in 22 minutes.
Overall, WVU shot 57.7% from the floor, including a sizzling 12 of 19 from 3-point range (63.2%). Yet the Mountaineers still managed to outrebound Texas Tech 34-33.
What’s not to like?
Well, Huggins found a few things, of course.
“We gave up 40-something points in the paint again,” he grumbled. “We can’t do that. We just didn’t rebound the ball on the offensive end. We have just been standing watching. We haven’t really pursued the ball the way we normally pursue the ball.
“We have a lot of things to clean up. [We need to] get those things cleaned up and stop turning it over.”
That’s the goal when WVU hosts Florida at 2 p.m. Saturday in the WVU Coliseum.
Welcome to a new era of Mountaineer hoops.