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Better Spacing Has Drastically Improved WVU’s Perimeter Shooting

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(photo: Dale Sparks/WVU Athletic Communications)

Before the 2020-21 season began, West Virginia University men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins was adamant that his team would be able to shoot the ball from the perimeter this season. After spending each of the last two seasons in the basement of the Big 12 in 3-point percentage, Huggins believed this Mountaineer team had the players to make it happen.

Through the start of the season, however, it was looking like more of the same for the Mountaineers beyond the arch. In the team’s first 10 games, West Virginia was shooting just 30.3 percent on 3-pointers.

After that 10th game, however, was when sophomore forward Oscar Tshiebwe left the program. Without Tshiebwe and Derek Culver playing down low together, West Virginia was going to have to change its offensive scheme. Instead of trying to stick with a two forward lineup, Huggins instead transitioned to a lineup with four shooters and Culver, and the Mountaineers’ 3-point shooting almost instantly improved.

In five games since making that change, WVU is shooting 46.4 percent from deep, averaging more than 10 made 3-pointers per game.

“It’s a crazy thing,” Huggins said after the team defeated Texas Tech Monday night. “Once [the ball] starts going in it has a tendency to keep on going in.”

What West Virginia’s new four-out lineup has that the old offensive scheme did not is more space. Before, with Tshiebwe and Culver both playing down low, there would be upwards of five players in the paint when WVU was trying to score. Now, it is just Culver in the paint with the four shooters all staying beyond the 3-point line.

Having more space has helped several of WVU’s shooters improve their numbers. Sophomore point guard Miles “Deuce” McBride was one of WVU’s best shooters in the beginning of the season, shooting 37.5 percent from deep. In the last five games, he is shooting 60.9% with a team-high 14 3-pointers. Senior Taz Sherman has also seen his numbers take a significant jump, going from 36.4 percent to 43.3 percent since the change.

The biggest beneficiary of this new lineup, however, has been redshirt-freshman forward Jalen Bridges. In his first nine games this season, Bridges was averaging just 1.4 points per game and was 1 for 11 from deep. Since WVU started using this new lineup, Bridges has shot 10 of 15 (66.7 percent) from 3-point range and is averaging 10.2 points per game.

“We’ve got to get him to rebound it a little bit more, which he is very capable of doing as well,” Huggins said of Bridges. “But this is exactly what I envisioned [for him].”

The Mountaineers’ 36.6 team 3-point percentage currently ranks third in the Big 12. That would be the Mountaineers’ highest ranking in the conference since the 2013-14 season when they shot 38.1% and finished second. Eron Harris (44.4 percent) and Juwan Staten (40 percent) led the team in 3-point shooting that season.

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Cody spent the last two years getting his master's degree in journalism from WVU. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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