Midwest Regional: Key player for West Virginia Mountaineers

CLEVELAND -- To paraphrase noted philosopher Jimmy Valmer: The West Virginia Mountaineers like to press. Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?

Yes, the Mountaineers' relentless defensive style was all the rage in Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday. Oh, sure, there were other questions -- about Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey's recently deceased mother, about rumors of the Alabama Crimson Tide's interest in Wichita State Shockers coach Gregg Marshall, about Bob Huggins' relationship with Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari. (That history is a long, strange one, but it features a legendary story, recounted by Brett McMurphy in 2011, wherein Huggins survived a heart attack in Pittsburgh thanks to Calipari's cousin, an emergency medical technician who told the coach, then 5-0 against Calipari, that "you can't die until we beat you at least once.")

But the press was the thing, and understandably so. The Mountaineers wear their toughness, physicality and lack of fear on their sleeves; look no further than WVU frosh Daxter Miles' quotes on the matter. As storylines go, "the underdog whose unconventional tactics give it a chance of toppling Goliath" would sound like assembly-line Malcolm Gladwell fodder if Gladwell hadn't literally written it already. And it's also true: West Virginia really does have to create turnovers to win. It does so at the highest rate in the country, with a relentlessness the Wildcats have yet to face from any team this season.

But generating turnovers is not the Mountaineers' only strength. Actually, turnovers are merely one means to Huggins' ultimate end: more shots.

"Look at the stats," Huggins said Sunday, after West Virginia dropped Maryland in the round of 32. "We get 16 more shots than what they get. That's what we have to do. We have to get more shots. We shot 36 percent the first half. They shot 55. And we led by one. Because we get more shots. That's what we are."

Which is why West Virginia's most important player Thursday isn't one of Huggins' legion of pesky guards. Instead, it's forward Devin Williams.

Why? Because there is more than one way to get more shots.

Turnovers -- or a lack thereof -- certainly help. But rebounding helps, too. The Mountaineers create their extra shots both ways; they are nearly as good on the offensive glass as they are at forcing turnovers. Williams is not West Virginia's best offensive rebounder -- that would be fellow forward Jonathan Holton, who pulls down 13.2 percent of available misses. But while Williams is nearly as good on that end of the floor, he's also, arguably, the best defensive rebounder in the country, grabbing 30.4 percent of available defensive rebounds, fourth-highest in Division I. He'll be facing a Kentucky team that leads the nation in second-chance opportunities. More shots is always relative; it doesn't do Huggins any good if the Wildcats match his team board for board. Somehow, Williams will have to stem the tide.

The Mountaineers don't shoot the ball well. They don't defend shooters particularly well, either. Which is just fine with their coach, who brilliantly molded this team with both its strengths and weaknesses in mind.

"I love it," Huggins said. "I love the fact that we can not make shots and still win."

Of course, to knock off the nation's best team, West Virginia will have to create turnovers. That much-hyped press is much-hyped for a reason.

But rebounds -- and Williams' contribution therein -- will be every bit as important.