Pressure tries to cover weaknesses unless you’re Wooden’s UCLA teams
West Virginia employs a full-court pressure defense against its sometimes skittish opponents.
Why does any college team use a snarling pressure defense against an opponent?
There are two main reasons and several secondary reasons.
The first is to overcome its own poor field goal shooting in a normal half-court situation where jump shots and perimeter three-point efforts are the norm. By creating a rapid tempo and having players spread out all over the floor, the pressing team hopes to make steals and then get in-close shots and get fouled in the process.
West Virginia has five of those players in its regular 11-player rotation who are making less than 40 percent of their field goal attempts. Nathan Adrian (.314), Gary Browne (.381), Jevon Carter (.385), Chase Connor (.391) and Daxter Miles, Jr. (.394) are all making less than 40 percent of their shots from the field. And Connor is put into games because he is supposed to be an accurate three-point shooter. He is making .333 percent of his three-point tries.
While a pressure defense has served the Mountaineers well and has caused problems for opponents, it hasn’t solved their three-point shooting woes. Tarik Phillip makes .111 percent of his long-range attempts and Adrian (.156), Jonathan Holton (.167) and Carter (.262) are failing so far in their outside shooting.
The second major reason to use full-court pressure is to take advantage of more useful depth than the opponent brings. Disrupting the opposition’s half-court offense and tiring their thinner team in the second half go right along with having a deeper bench. The tired team doesn’t shoot as well, doesn’t rebound as well, makes more floor errors and fouls more often.
Secondary reasons the Mountaineers press are the help it usually provides toward offensive rebounding and in creating more individual offensive situations to go against one defender who can’t get any help.
In moving out to its 14-2 overall record in games through January 10, the Mountaineers have outrebounded their opponents, 622-527, have a large advantage in steals at 205-71, have made 188 turnovers compared to the opponents’ 357 and even have fewer personal fouls with 350 as compared to the opponents’ 373.
But in the loss at home to Iowa State, the Mountaineers could never establish their pressure as a signature part of the game. In the first half alone, the Cyclones got five nearly uncontested layups and West Virginia had one steal where it got a breakaway layup.
West Virginia’s press often gambles on double-teaming ball handlers in the backcourt. Iowa State didn’t crumble. And because it rendered the pressure as mostly ineffective it managed a two-point win.
Only the national championship teams of famed UCLA coach John Wooden (10 NCAA titles in a 12-year period) didn’t cover weaknesses with their 2-2-1 full-court zone pressure defense. UCLA didn’t surrender layups against its pressure.
In his first few years of winning national titles (1964 and 1965) Wooden had smallish teams with Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Kenny Washington, Jack Hirsch, Edgar Lacey, Fred Slaughter, Keith Erickson, Freddie Goss, Mike Lynn and Doug McIntosh. In the later years of his dynasty, Wooden had all-time greats at center in Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton as well as Steve Patterson. Not many teams chose to challenge Alcindor and Walton even if they got past forwards Sidney Wicks, Marques Johnson and Keith Wilkes.
UCLA didn’t foul much and didn’t give up many layups while it was completely controlling the tempo and getting the turnovers it wanted to fuel its own running game.
Without players like Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Walton, West Virginia can’t block shots when teams work through its pressure defense. But the Mountaineers must be able overcome their shortcomings with more accurate shooting from more than one or two players per game and better free throw shooting where they have Brandon Watkins (.333), Miles, Jr. (.455), Adrian (.500), Phillip (.579), Paige (.619) and Browne (.641) hurting their chances in close Big 12 games.