MORGANTOWN — Those West Virginia fans that attended last year’s final regular season football game against Baylor were treated at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Not so much by the Mountaineer football team, which struggled to earn win No. 10 that day by 24-21. Rather by the basketball game shown on the big screen during timeouts.
WVU officials aired pieces of the Mountaineers’ 66-57 upset over Virginia in Charlottesville to a roaring crowd that booed when the game was paused for the football action. They were, however, able to cheer when the final was shown. It was the first Mountaineer non-conference road win over an Associated Press Top 10 team since 1957.
Now, on Tuesday at 7 p.m., many of those WVU fans will get to see No. 15 Virginia in the Coliseum against the No. 18 Mountaineers. Nearly 13,000 tickets have been sold and distributed, including to students.
The Cavaliers are 8-0 and coming off a 75-54 victory over Lehigh. They’ve defeated Wisconsin 49-37, VCU 76-67 and Vanderbilt 68-42, among others. And while WVU is without players like graduated Nate Adrian, Tarik Phillips and suspended Esa Ahmad for this matchup, Virginia won’t have graduated point guard London Perrantes and graduate transfer Darius Thompson, who is now the leading scorer at Western Kentucky.
“They’re about the same [as last year], I think,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins on Monday. “[Kyle] Guy obviously shoots it really well. They don’t have an experienced point guard like they did a year ago, but they’re good.”
“They are pack-line on defense and movers and blockers on offense.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who took over for his father Dick at Washington State before moving to Charlottesville, is known for his “pack-line” or sagging defense, which currently is No. 1 nationally allowing but 50.6 points a game. It’s a variation of man-to-man, but rather than off-ball defenders being on the perimeter to pressure or deny passes, they stay within 16 feet from the rim.
“A lot is talked about their defense, but the reality is they control the game with their offense,” Huggins said. “I think what happens is you don’t want to go down and play defense for 30 seconds and then come down and take a shot in five seconds and go back. It’s like running the ball in football. They do a great job of controlling the clock.”
WVU is No. 1 in turnover margin, while Virginia is tied at No. 3 in turnovers by averaging just 8.9 per game.
The counter to Virginia’s defensive style of play, meanwhile, is having ball-handlers create off the dribble and hope players convert contested 3-point shots. Of course, turning the Cavaliers over, as WVU and its “Press Virginia” defense did 14 times last year, also helps.
“They’re hard to speed up, but we got them sped up a little bit last year,” Huggins said. “We actually had them sped up a little bit the year before but you can’t make boneheaded plays and we did.”
The two teams played in the Jimmy V Classic in New York in 2015 and Virginia won 70-54.
“I know exactly what they’re going to do with that press style,” Cavaliers guard Nigel Johnson said after the Lehigh game. “Just stay patient and don’t let them overwhelm you. The trick for me to beating the press was keeping the ball in the middle. Do not let it get to the sides. When you get the ball on the sides, right near half-court, that’s when they really try to get a turnover.”
“I know they’re a physical team,” said Virginia forward Isaiah Wilkins. “They’re going to get after us and it’s at WVU. We have to be ready to play and we have got to be secure and strong with the ball.”
Guy, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard, is leading his team in scoring with a 16.6 average. Fellow guard Devon Hall, a 6-5 senior, is the other Cavalier averaging double figures at 11.8.
WVU, 7-1 and coming off a 102-69 win over NJIT, has four averaging double figures: Jevon Carter (19), Dax Miles (14.9), James “Beetle” Bolden (11.6) and Lamont West (10.5).
NOTES: The game will be aired on ESPNU … The series between the schools stands at 9-9 … Huggins said his team is in good shape physically. “This is probably the healthiest we’ve been,” he said … The WVU head coach said it’s his goal to play non-conference games against regional opponents like Pitt, Virginia Tech and Virginia, although no more games against the Cavs are scheduled at this point. “I think that’s what our people want to see,” Huggins said. “I don’t want everybody to wait until January to come to the games. So you try to sprinkle in some of these games.”