One thing most people who have followed college basketball this season, especially over the last few weeks, can agree on is the team from West Virginia University plays pretty good defense.
How good are the Mountaineers? ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla spent chunks of multiple broadcasts last week championing WVU as perhaps the best defensive team in the country. The statistics tell a similar story.
West Virginia, which sits at 13-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12, is holding opponents to a .351 field goal percentage — second-best in the country behind Virginia — and a .233 3-point percentage — second in the country behind only Arkansas.
Still, to the surprise of very few, veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins is not satisfied with what he has seen from the Mountaineers on defense as the team prepares to host surprising TCU (12-3, 3-0 Big 12) Tuesday at the WVU Coliseum (9 p.m. on ESPNU)
“We’ve got to do a better job of making rotations,” Huggins said. “We’re rotating, we’re just not — it’s kind of like I heard Lou Holtz say one time. He said Billy Ray Smith was not an All-American because he got knocked down, he was an All-American because he didn’t stay down. He got up, took the shortest route to the ball-carrier and arrived in a bad mood. We’ve got to start taking shorter routes to people and being more aggressive when we get there.”
The Horned Frogs are likely to put West Virginia’s so-far standout perimeter defense to the test Tuesday. While WVU owns the Big 12’s best 3-point defense, TCU has the league’s best long-range offense. In 15 games, the Horned Frogs have hit 147 of 400 3-point attempts with 6-foot-6 senior guard Desmond Bane, a second-team All-Big 12 pick last season, leading the conference with a 44.2 3-point percentage. Bane’s 42 made 3-pointers are four more than anyone else in the league, which works out to an average of not quite three made 3s per game.
Huggins said TCU coach Jamie Dixon has really built this Horned Frogs team, picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll by league coaches, around the long-distance shot and so far this season it has paid off.
“They’re making shots,” Huggins said. “They spread you — they do a great job of spreading you because he puts four guys on the floor that can really make shots.
“And Bane, I think, he’s one of the elite players in the league. He’s shooting 44 percent from 3 and 88 percent from the foul line. Seven rebounds per game for a guard — he’s a really good player.”
The Horned Frogs also have a competent threat on the inside with 6-11 sophomore center Kevin Samuel. The Barbuda native is currently second in the league, behind only Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, with a 66.4 field goal percentage while averaging 10 points and almost nine rebounds per game.
West Virginia, of course, has two talented forwards of its own in 6-10 sophomore Derek Culver and 6-9 freshman Oscar Tshiebwe who currently rank No. 1 (Tshiebwe at 9.8) and No. 2 (Culver at 9.6) in rebounds per game among Big 12 players. With how well TCU shoots the 3-pointer, it could hurt the Mountaineers if their big men get caught drifting out toward the perimeter. Huggins, however, said Culver has been pretty good in those specific situations this season.
“One of them is going to guard Samuel,” Huggins said of Culver and Tshiebwe. “It just comes down to who we put the other one on. Derek has done a really good job on the perimeter. Everybody is talking about how good of feet he has for a guy that is 6-10.”