West Virginia is talking about turning up the volume on its “Press Virginia” style as the NCAA Tournament begins.
The Mountaineers, ranked 13th in the nation and seeded No. 4 in the East Region, open the tournament Thursday against 13th-seeded Bucknell in KeyBank Center.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said he wants to see his team play more aggressive than it did over the weekend in the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
“We haven’t been the aggressor,” Huggins said after the NCAA field was announced Sunday. “We’ve gotta get back to being the aggressor. We’ve got to get back to dictating how the game’s played. We haven’t done that.”
West Virginia is capable of dictating the pace like no other team in the country. The Mountaineers lead the nation in turnovers forced (20.4 a game), steals (10.4) and in percentage of possessions on which a turnover is forced (28.1).
What else is new?
West Virginia was second in the nation in creating turnovers last season (25 percent) and first in 2014-15 (28 percent).
The pace of opponents’ giveaways slowed a bit of late. The past four games, West Virginia has forced an average of 13 turnovers a game. Two of those games were against 23rd-ranked Iowa State.
“We’ve kind of let other people dictate style and pace and we can’t do that,” Huggins said. “We’ve gotta play the way we play.”
Dominant rebounding is another trait of the Mountaineers, who rank seventh in the nation on the offensive glass. West Virginia got outrebounded, 33-29, in the Big 12 title game loss to Iowa State Saturday and was beaten on the glass by Baylor, 43-23, two weeks ago. So those performances no doubt also are sticking in Huggins’ mind.
West Virginia relies on balanced scoring, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points a game. Point guard Jevon Carter averages 13.1 ppg, small forward Esa Ahmad averages 11.2, and power forward Nathan Adrian averages 9.9.
Huggins said he’s looking forward this week to players recovering from some minor injuries (none of which have had a big impact on players’ minutes of late).
“The first thing we gotta do is get healthy,” Huggins said. “Nate’s not healthy. Teyvon sprained his ankle. J.C.’s not healthy. We gotta get healthy. That’s the biggest thing.”
Teyvon Myers, the backup to Carter at point guard, averages 13 minutes a game.
Another change Huggins is seeking is better preparation leading up to the first round.
Last year, the third-seeded Mountaineers were eliminated in the first round by 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin, 70-56.
“We had no effort, no enthusiasm,” Huggins said. “They acted like they didn’t want to be there. I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that was that bad in practice that consistently that week. Most people are excited about playing in the NCAA Tournament. We had some New York guys going back to New York. It didn’t excite ’em much.”
How does Huggins plan to avoid a repeat of that performance?
“I told them I’m going to throw them ... out of there if they’re that way this time,” he said. “There’s no sense wasting time practicing if you’re not going to practice.”