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Over the past several seasons, West Virginia’s press has become known as one of the toughest schemes to face in all of college basketball. People sometimes criticize Bob Huggins and Co. for using it, but the proof is in the pudding (or in this case, wins).
The Mountaineers aren’t always going to bring in the highest-rated available recruits but the players they get are going to play hard, and most importantly, they are going to fit the “Press Virginia” system.
West Virginia leads the nation in steals and most of that can be attributed to the press.
There are few things in basketball that are more difficult to prepare for than a finely-tuned press. They are capable of speeding up teams, both mentally and physically, wearing them down, again, both mentally and physically, and are extremely difficult to simulate in practice.
Most of Iowa State’s players aren’t new to facing the press but it is a definite change up for every team that faces the Mountaineers. I pulled several clips from West Virginia’s 70-55 home win over Kansas State to break down the goals and intentions of “Press Virginia.”
The first key when facing the press is the catch off the inbounds. Ideally, the point guard (or whoever) is going to catch the ball in the middle of the floor away from the baseline.
The press is designed to try and force a catch in the corner where instead of being just one defender, there is technically three with the baseline and sideline holding the ball handler in position.
K-State has trouble opening up the inbounds pass on that clip, forcing the guard to run to the corner in order to catch the pass. Once he’s there, the defender doesn’t have to do much.
He steps right on the sideline and gives the ball right back to West Virginia.
When the ball-handler doesn’t step on the sideline immediately they are going to look to trap once the ball gets into the corner. More often than not the Mountaineers’ trap man is the guy guarding the inbounds pass.
Once again K-State allows itself to get pushed into the corner to make the catch. Once the player is there and the trap comes, there isn’t much for him to do except make a spectacular move to split the defenders (risking a turnover), call timeout, throw a wild pass or step out of bounds.
He steps out of bounds and gives the ball right back to WVU.
The goal of the press is to force teams into making quick decisions and when you make the initial catch in the corner there aren’t many decisions to make.
Catch the ball in the middle. Simple as that.
Making the catch in a good spot is obviously just a small part of breaking the press. Once the ball inbounded, West Virginia is going to play straight up more often than not. They’ll bring another trap sometimes but not every time.
This is when speeding a team up mentally and physically really comes into play.
They are going to do everything they can to force the opposing team into a quick decision. For this reason they’ll deny close passes while still allowing long passes down court.
Now, you don’t need to be a genius to realize it’s easier to complete a short pass than a long one. That especially comes into play when the guys on the back end of the press are prepared to break on the ball the second it’s in the air.
K-State does a solid job of making the initial catch and breaking the first trap. West Virginia is there to deny the next passes causing the Wildcat ball-handler to panic with the ball in his hands.
He tries to throw a long, low-percentage pass down the sideline and it ends in a turnover. The better option would be to slow down and wait for a teammate to come to the middle of the floor instead of staying on the sideline.
Once again, stay in the middle. Simple as that.
One last change up the Mountaineers will use is to press off of missed baskets when it’s difficult to correctly set up the pressure. They’ve been vulnerable to giving up easy baskets in these situations like this clip against K-State (Sorry for poor video quality. My internet isn’t always the best).
I swear that clip ended in a make.
The Wildcats did a good job of looking ahead to make the outlet before quickly getting the ball back to the middle of the floor.
What happened when the ball it made it to the middle? Good things.
Against the West Virginia press, stay in the middle. It’s as simple as that.