MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
Sometimes it’s even the mother of re-invention, as it was with this year’s West Virginia basketball team.
When Oscar Tshiebwe said “toodles” and headed off to Kentucky, Bob Huggins saw that it was necessary to reinvent his team and he did so well that now they are unrecognizable compared to what he came into the season with, owning a 17-4 record and 8-4 mark in the Big 12 after wiping out a 19-point, second half deficit at Texas.
Now the fact that defense played a huge role in the comeback is not part of the reinvention, for that has always been a signature item of a Bob Huggins team.
But offensively, this is not your typical Huggins team at all.
Huggins offensive teams like to play inside out, they rely heavily on pounding the offensive glass, but this team has discovered the 3-point shot and by playing four players out and only Derek Culver down low it has created a situation where it takes advantage of all that it does best.
The proof we can offer for that is the fact that this team has gone from averaging 74.6 points a game to better than 80.5 points a game.
What’s more, WVU is shooting 42.2% from 3-point range since Jan. 1 while prior to that it shot only 30.3%. Since Jan. 25, four Mountaineers have set career highs in scoring — McNeil with 26 points at Texas Tech, McBride with 31 against Kansas, Taz Sherman with 25 against Kansas and Derek Culver with 29 against Oklahoma.
And with making 10 of 21 against Texas for 47.6 percent, WVU has now made eight or more 3s in eight of their last 12 games. Last year WVU accomplished that only 3 times all season and not once in the final 19 games.
It’s been a renaissance.
“I think we are more equipped to score. Playing four out has given us a different identity and it has really taken the congestion away from Derek.
“You look at his numbers since we changed and put Jalen Bridges in the lineup, they are astronomically different,” Huggins stressed.
Actually, going into Saturday’s Texas game you could split the season into 10 games played while Oscar Tshiebwe was with the Mountaineers and 10 after he left.
Now it’s true that WVU didn’t get right into the offense they are running today, but even if you use the early games when they were still feeling their way through the transition, Culver’s numbers rise, although not as dramatically as they have in recent games.
In the first 10 games Culver averaged 14.1 points a game. That’s up to 16.0 per games since.
But starting with the Florida game, Culver found his niche, averaging 20.8 points a game and twice breaking his career high with 28 points against the Gators and 29 against Oklahoma.
However, a caution light goes on when WVU leans too heavily on Culver for the Mountaineers lost both the Florida and Oklahoma game.
Meanwhile, the 3-point shooters have shown a huge jump in productivity and efficiency since Huggins began leaning on them more.
Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman both have set career highs since then and given the Mountaineers, along with Miles McBride, Jalen Bridges and Emmitt Matthews Jr. an outside presence that was missing last year and early this year.
McNeil went into the Texas game riding a career-high 26-point outburst against Texas Tech and 21 against Oklahoma and had scored 21 or more in three of his last five games. After scoring just four baskets in the three games after Tschiebwe left, McNeil has roared through the last six games hitting 33 of 63 shots, which is 53.4 percent shooting and has hit his 3s at 47.8 percent.
Sherman is no different. He averaged 10.5 points a game when Tshiebwe was playing and that has jumped to 15 points a game since he left, his shooting percentage sitting at 52.4 percent in the second half of the season while canning 41.3 percent of his 3-point tries.
What made Huggins decide to go this way?
“Your personnel dictates a lot of that,” Huggins said. “You try to use your personnel and what you feel be their most successful chance to be successful. Jalen Bridges has been terrific. He gives us another guy who can stretch the floor and give Derek more room to operate down low.”
Whatever the reason, it is changed the Mountaineers into a dynamic team that is fun to watch play and that has defenses scrambling to try find a way to hold them down.