Quick hits: Huggins talks WVU defense and strength of Big 12

Gold and Blue Nation

Huggins calls the Big 12 the "hardest league in America" as team preps for league play

West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins is in charge of a defense that’s held each of its last six opponents to fewer than 60 points.

It’s an impressive streak, but that doesn’t mean Huggins still doesn’t see room for growth on defense.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Huggins’ time with the media on Tuesday ahead of WVU’s upcoming game against Youngstown State.

Defense, Defense, Defense

Huggins was asked a number of questions about the WVU defense, and how it has performed so far this year. West Virginia is allowing just 60.5 points per game this season, and has gotten key contributions as of late from the likes of Kedrian Johnson, Pauly Paulicap, and Gabe Osabuohien, among others.

“We have, I think, a core of guys who really have gotten better,” Huggins said. “We have one very good rim protector, and then we have another one who’s pretty good.”

Huggins has recently been complimentary of Johnson’s efforts on defense, specifically.

“It’s not been a surprise at all. He did it in junior college,” said Huggins.

As a unit, though, Huggins still sees room to improve.

“Our ball pressure isn’t what it once was,” Huggins said.

He also pointed to the fact that he doesn’t expect to be able to hold teams in the Big 12 to 60 points or less given how strong the league is this season.

“Are we going to hold Texas to 55? Probably not,” Huggins added.

Top conference in America

Speaking of the Big 12 Conference, the league is loaded once again.

The Big 12 has the best average NET Ranking among its members in the country.

“We play in the hardest league in America,” said Huggins. “That league is so hard. When you look at the people in it, and what the people have done. The coaching in it. I’ve said it, we have 70 percent of our coaches have coached in the Final Four. There’s not another league like that.”

Maybe the biggest challenge, aside from the overall competition in the league, is consistently playing good basketball while going through so a difficult conference.

“Our league is so hard. And we’re trying to become, more than anything else, fundamentally sound,” said the head coach.

Scouting Youngstown State

A familiar opponent in Youngstown State (7-3) will visit the WVU Coliseum on Wednesday.

The Penguins are coached by former Fairmont State head coach Jerrod Calhoun, who was also an assistant coach under Huggins.

“They really run good offense. They’re very patient. They’re very skilled in getting the ball where they need the ball to get to,” Huggins said of the Penguins. “They’re sound defensively.”

Huggins isn’t surprised at the success that Calhoun has had, either.

“He’s done a great job. He’s done a great job of coaching,” Huggins said.

Calhoun was an assistant coach at WVU from 2007 through 2012, after which he took over at Fairmont State and led the Fighting Falcons to the NCAA Division II title game in 2017.

Make-up of this team

Huggins has had 11 games to assess his team to this point in the season.

The Mountaineers have been one of the top defensive teams in the country to this point, but have struggled on offense.

“We’re going to keep playing, but I think it says a lot that we’re holding people under 60 and we are trying to play,” Huggins said. “We’re not scoring the ball at the rate we have scored the ball in the past.”

With that said, it doesn’t mean there’s a lack of effort or competitiveness.

“The one thing that I hope everybody learns here is to compete. We compete,” said Huggins.

The head coach also knows his players want an opportunity to show the rest of the Big 12 what they’re made of.

“I think we have guys that are clamoring for a chance. … They’re clamoring for an opportunity,” Huggins said. “I think we have guys that want to prove they can play at the highest level of college basketball. Which is what we do. I think that’s a great challenge for them, and they’re excited about that.”

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