MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia’s frenetic pressure defense played a hefty role in the Mountaineers’ success the last several seasons.
“Press Virginia” suffocated the opposition and used turnovers to create scoring opportunities.
However, the face of WVU’s high-pressure defense has a new look without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr.
The two led the Mountaineers to three Sweet 16 appearances in four seasons.
Carter finished as WVU’s all-time steals leader with 330 and led the nation this season with 112. He finished second in career assists with 559 and eighth in school history with 1,758 points.
Now, the Mountaineers have to rely on Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, Lamont West, Logan Routt, Beetle Bolden, Wesley Harris and Chase Harler to lead a group of newcomers in the press.
With seven new additions and Brandon Knapper finally getting the opportunity to play, head coach Bob Huggins’ squad has their work cut out for them to be as successful as it once was.
“It’s a work in progress,” Huggins said. “We’re not very good at it yet. Rotations aren’t very good yet. We got so many new guys that they don’t understand how hard you got to play.”
However, WVU doesn’t plan to shy away from the defensive scheme that has led them to so much success.
Having 15 capable bodies is one advantage the Mountaineers will have this season.
“We’re a little bit more athletic,” Harler said. “We just have so many guys. I feel like everyone is going to be fresh. I don’t think we have to play tired. With JC and Dax leaving, that’s definitely a big part of our team last year. With them leaving, I feel like that makes everyone else feel that they need to step up and there is minutes to be had, roles to be filled and I think that’s going to benefit us this year.”
But the press is still a work in progress for the new faces.
“We struggle at times with the press, knowing when to trap,” Harler said. “Sometimes we trap too early and it just opens up the floor for everybody else. I think with experience as games go on we will just continue to get better with that.”
Positioning is another big issue for WVU’s youngsters.
“It looks like chaos out there and it probably is just mostly chaos but there is some structure to it,” Harler said. “That’s where we are struggling the most. Sometimes we get confused with just playing hard and doing stuff like that like going into the trap. That’s considered playing hard but it’s maybe not the smartest trap. Just with playing games and experience we will get better at that.”
With the return of Konate in the frontcourt, the Mountaineers have a piece of the puzzle that will likely benefit the press. Konate led the Big 12 with 116 blocks. Him and Ahmad were also the team’s top rebounders.
“Sags is the best shot blocker in the country so it’s nice knowing if you do get beat he’s probably going to be there to protect the rim,” Harler said.
The backcourt is where the problems still lie.
“The back of the press isn’t a concern,” Huggins added. “We don’t understand angles well enough yet. We don’t understand how hard we have to play yet.”
However, a healthy Bolden will help boost WVU’s defense.
“He’s the leader,” Huggins said. “He’s the one they all look to. He’s done a great job of taking over the leadership role.”
Fans will get a look at the Mountaineers defense on Saturday during an exhibition game against Penn State at 12 p.m. (ET).
Cover Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS