Smitten with Juwan Staten, who Monday was named the Big 12 player of the week? Well, that’s fine and smart, of course, but let’s tilt our heads a little and look at this in a different manner.
Begin with a seemingly benign, but no doubt beneficial decision by a teammate in the final seconds Tuesday night. Oh, that was Staten’s game-winning layup, but watch Eron Harris on this play and see how he makes the heroics a little easier on his point guard.
It’s a cheeky little play where he sees the back of Gary Franklin’s jersey and realizes he and Staten have a chance to win this. He knows he can retreat into the corner and that one of two things will happen. Either Franklin will stay put to defend Staten or Franklin will follow Harris. Either one is a good move for Franklin because Staten has a step on the way to the hoop and because Harris is WVU’s best shooter. He decided to scramble to Harris, which left Staten with one fewer obstacle for his reverse layup.
“It created spacing for us,” Huggins said. “If guys stay to support, then Eron is going to be open in the corner. Obviously, everybody is concerned about Eron making shots, so (Franklin) ran to the corner, which opened something for Wanny.”
That … that’s pretty interesting, no? Because Huggins said that Friday afternoon, three days after the win at Baylor and 23 hours before WVU tipped off against Kansas State. The Mountaineers won 81-71 and talked afterward about how they’d changed their offense.
What did they do? Well, they made sure Staten had the ball, which is clever, and they asked questions of the Kansas State defense that is the best in the Big 12 in scoring and 3-point percentage and third in field-goal percentage.
Staten was the point guard using high screens to get into the defense, where he’d then read and react. If a defender helped a teammate guard Staten, Staten passed to the teammate the helping defender left open. If no help came, Staten got his. It was simple and wonderful and worked for 35 points, 21 free throw attempts and a school-record-tying 18 made foul shots — and he also had five assist.
In short, what happened in the final seconds against Baylor happened throughout WVU’s biggest victory in a season that’s taking a noticeable turn. The Mountaineers made the defense think and act. WVU put its five-out motion offense on the shelf — for a day, but maybe for longer? — to use a four-out, one-in motion that used the screens, but just one cutter instead of four.
It thinned the traffic for Staten and expanded a Kansas State defense that likes to compress and clog passing and driving lanes. The Wildcats have no shot blocker, which means players who can bounce and go, be they Staten, Harris, Terry Henderson or even … Remi Dibo?, were emboldened.
And if the Wildcats did rally to the drive, then the ball went to an open shooter, who could shoot or put the ball on the floor.
“We definitely have guys who can make you pay for helping and we have guys who can get the ball to the rim,” Staten said. “We can put a lot of pressure on a team with that. If we come down and they’re not stopping us, we can get to the rim. If they collapse, we can make good passes and get good shots. That puts any team in a bad spot.”
Oklahoma is next and the Sooners are small with no shot-blocker and the Big 12’s worst scoring defense and third-worst field-goal percentage defense. The Mountaineers feel like the new way should be used again “… because no one is guarding Juwan.”