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WVU is Missing Chase Harler and Jermaine Haley’s Perimeter Defense



(WVSN File Photo)

The Kansas Jayhawks made 16 three-pointers in a 79-65 victory against the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday night. The No. 3 Jayhawks attempted 37 three-pointers in the game and shot 43.2% from range.

A season ago, it would have been inconceivable that a team, even one as talented as Kansas, could shoot that well from the perimeter against the Mountaineers. WVU had the lowest opponent three-point percentage in the Big 12 in 2019-20, at 28.8 percent. This season, however, that number has slipped as opponents are shooting 33.1 percent from beyond the arch and averaging.

“The surprise was [Kansas] shot it as well as they shot it from the perimeter,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said after the loss Tuesday. “We haven’t been as physical as we’ve needed to be and we haven’t guarded even close to how we need to guard.”

The hole on WVU’s defense this season seems to stem from the departure of guards Chase Harler and Jermaine Haley, both seniors on last season’s team. Harler and Haley were two of WVU’s best on-ball defenders last season, Huggins said Harler was the one guy on the team who always knew where to be and Haley’s length at 6-foot-7 made him a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Harler and Haley played the bulk of WVU’s minutes at shooting guard last season, roles that have been filled this year by the more offensive-focused Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman.

There are a few advanced statistics that attempt to assign value to a player’s defense – defensive rating, defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus – and all of them favor Harler and Haley over Sherman and McNeil. Defensive rating is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions (lower is better), defensive win shares is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense (higher is better) and defensive box plus-minus is an estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above an average player (higher is better).

Defensive RatingDefensive Win SharesDefensive Box Plus/Minus
Chase Harler96.00.93.9
Jermaine Haley91.61.64.8
Sean McNeil106.00.21.0
Taz Sherman105.30.21.1

What Sherman and McNeil lack on defense they could make up with their offense, they are combining to average 22.6 points per game compared to Harler and Haley’s 13.3. However, WVU’s defense has regressed this season by more than its offense as progressed. WVU is averaging 74.8 points per game and allowing 69.3 points as a team this season whereas it averaged 70.3 and allowed 62.4 last season.

Regardless of who he has out there, however, Huggins said he expects the Mountaineers to play better defense this year.

“The one thing that I was taught growing up was, you’re not going to shoot it good every day. You’re going to have days when you make everything, you’re going to have days when you don’t make anything, but defense ought to be consistent,” Huggins said. “That’s not a skill-related, neuro-muscular deal, that’s having enough will and being able to move your feet good enough to stay between your man and the basket.”

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