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West Virginia hopes to make run in Big 12 Tournament

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Mountaineers open Thursday against Baylor

The 2014-2015 season campaign can be considered a success for the West Virginia Mountaineers who improved to a 23-8 and 11-7 in the Big 12.

Big 12 Coach of the Year Bob Huggins takes his squad to Kansas City for the conference tournament on Thursday, where the Mountaineers will try to improve their NCAA seeding.

So how can they win in the postseason?

Live by the Press, Die by the Press
What really makes the Mountaineers a successful team is their infamous full-court press. Installed by Huggins this offseason, their press forces opponents to play at their pace and creates turnovers. West Virginia currently leads the league in steals with 11.1 per game and 343 on the season.

However, the press can also hinder WVU, at times creating more problems than solutions. Teams like Baylor Bears have found ways to ransack the WVU press. Baylor who overcame the press when the teams played in Morgantown earlier this season by making long passes, which allowed them to get easy transition lay-ups and uncontested 3-pointers, which facilitated an early 23-3 run en route to an 87-69 win over the Mountaineers.

A similar situation occurred against Oklahoma in Norman, where the Mountaineers lost 71-52. Oklahoma limited their turnovers to 13—in comparison to the 22 they had in their previous meeting—and outscored WVU 27-8 off points from turnovers and 20-6 in fast break points.

Speaking of Turnovers…
Huggins has clearly been bothered by his team’s turnovers, often a result of their frenetic pace of play. In their worst losses of the season, they had 15+ turnovers and lost each of those contests by at least 18 points. Turnovers allow opponents to go on runs to gain insurmountable leads.

Poor Shooting
West Virginia in ninth in the 10-team Big 12 with a .411 shooting percentage. They are dead-last in 3-point shooting at .316. In five of their losses, WVU has shot less than 38 percent from the field and 39 percent from the perimeter. Their worst field goal shooting performance was a 24 percent night on the road in a 77-50 loss to the Texas Longhorns. A 5-of-26 performance from 3-point range in the 71-52 at Oklahoma was their worst long distance shooting game.

For a team whose offense is ranked 36th overall at 74.1 points per contest, one of the most talented point guards in the Big 12 and at least five other players that capable in scoring in double figures, the poor shooting performances probably come from poor shot selection.

What They Can Fix
To say that the Mountaineers need to improve their shooting is easy to say, but harder to do. While their shot selection can be better, shooting is not a skill that can be developed and mastered overnight.

In the short term, what West Virginia can do is improve their defensive rebounding. They are currently ranked last in the conference with just 20 defensive rebounds per game. Even a slight improvement will give the Mountaineers more offensive chances as well as more fast break opportunities.

They also need to take care of the ball more effectively and be willing to pass the ball rather than taking ill-advised shots. As good as Juwan Staten can be, the Mountaineers don’t need him to dominate. West Virginia is best when everyone is contributing. In one of their best wins of the season against Oklahoma on Jan.13, they had 11 different players register a basket. They were able to score 27 points off 22 turnovers, while they only had nine.

WVU can play with anyone in the Big 12, which may be the deepest conference in the country this season. But can they make a deep run? That remains to be seen.

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