MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the second time in the last four games, West Virginia held its opponent to just 61 points Saturday night in its win over Oklahoma.
It marked the fewest points the Mountaineers have allowed to an in-conference opponent since surrendering 60 points to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State last season. Saturday also continued a recent stretch of games where West Virginia has seemingly played better on the defensive end, overall.
During the Mountaineers’ five-game losing streak from Dec. 31-Jan. 14, WVU was giving up 77 points per game. But in the five conference games since, beginning with West Virginia’s win over No. 15 TCU on Jan. 18, the Mountaineers are surrendering just 66.4 points per game.
It’s an improvement of nearly 11 points per contest, which has led the Mountaineers to a 3-2 record over that span, with both losses coming against ranked opponents.
“I think we’re all better,” head coach Bob Huggins said Monday. “I think we’re a lot better defensively. [We’re] playing harder.”
According to metrics on EvanMiya.com, West Virginia ranks 56th in the country in Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating (DBPR), which quantifies how effective a player is by using advanced box-score metrics, play-by-play data, and historical information. That places the Mountaineers ninth in the Big 12 in that metric, but just a few percentage points behind Texas Tech for seventh.
WVU ranks sixth in the Big 12 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency. The Mountaineers rank 38th in the country in the metric.
Data by EvanMiya shows that Joe Toussaint is West Virginia’s top defensive player, closely followed by Kobe Johnson, and then Erik Stevenson and Kedrian Johnson. Toussaint is tied for 14th in the Big 12 in DBPR among players who have played at least 700 possessions on defense.
“I try to preach playing defense, and just trying to keep my level of effort high every single day that I come in,” Toussaint said.
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Huggins mentioned Monday that Kedrian has been consistent on the defensive end, but has dealt with injuries throughout the year. His not being at 100 percent has forced Toussaint to play more.
The Hall of Fame head coach also admitted that he would like to play Kedrian and Toussaint together more, and would’ve liked to have played them together more often from the start of the year. However, the fear of them getting in foul trouble at the same time, thus WVU being without a true point guard for a period of time during the game, has limited that, though they have appeared on the court together.
“I definitely like that, I mean, obviously because me and Keddy do a really good job pressuring the ball, and just helping,” said Toussaint. “I just feel like me and Keddy get the concept of helping, knowing when to help, knowing when to pressure the ball, things like that. I just feel like our mind is there on the defensive end of the court.”
West Virginia ranks last in the Big 12 in points allowed per game for the season. However, in conference play, WVU ranks fourth, with the difference being less than three points per game.
The Mountaineers have been the second-best team at defending against the 3-pointer and limiting the opponents’ rebounding opportunities since league play began. Four WVU players rank among the 20 best shot blockers in the conference since Big 12 play started on New Year’s Eve.
This is all to say that West Virginia’s focus has been on steadily improving on the defensive end.
“I feel like when you get stops it’s easier to score. When you don’t get stops, that’s when you start to panic,” said Toussaint. “When we get stops we all just play freely.”
West Virginia battles the top defensive team in the Big 12 on Wednesday night when No. 11 Iowa State comes to the WVU Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN.