MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It has been no secret that Bob Huggins is playing with a deep rotation this season. Adding a couple of junior college players, a transfer and some capable freshmen to the roster this year has turned WVU into one of the deepest teams in the nation, certainly in the Big 12.
Most nights the Mountaineers’ rotation runs 12 players deep, using this many players has a few advantages for Huggins. First, rotating his players out often can ensure that his players fresh and keep them from becoming fatigued throughout the game. Not playing anyone too many minutes can also help prevent injuries, which West Virginia has fortunately avoided 16 games into the season. Finally, keeping fresh players in the game all the time is a good way to wear the opposing team, who likely does not have as many players, down and make them fatigued.
This strategy has worked well this season, with WVU sitting at No. 12 in the nation with a 13-2 record. Reserve point guard Brandon Knapper said he has been able to see other teams tiring out, whereas WVU players can continue to run the floor.
“You can see it,” Knapper said. “Not a lot of guys are deep like us. We can tell that players are getting tired and we’re just running, even our bigs, they run the floor and make the other bigs tired.”
Sean McNeil was one of the junior college shooters brought in to provide this extra depth, after Tuesday’s win over TCU he said the Mountaineers definitely wore the Horned Frogs down with their depth.
“TCU’s a great team, give them credit, but I think we got to a point where we did wear them down,” McNeil said. “They just seem like they got real tired, winded. Our depth is dangerous and I think it’s starting to show.”
It is not just that Huggins is playing a lot of guys either, he has almost the entire 12-man rotation playing serious minutes each game. The minutes are so spread out in fact that not a single Mountaineer ranks in the top-25 in the Big 12 for minutes this season. Every other team in the Big 12 has at least two players on that list.
West Virginia is also the only team in the Big 12 that does not have a player averaging 30 or more minutes. WVU’s leaders in playing time are sophomores Derek Culver and Emmitt Matthews Jr. who have each played 396 minutes through 16 games (24.8 average). Their lead is slim at best, however, as WVU has three other players averaging more than 22 minutes. There are five more players averaging between 12 and 18 minutes and two averaging between seven and 10.
Even as one of the leaders in playing time, Culver understands how important WVU’s depth is to the team’s success.
“I feel like a lot of teams don’t have as many players as we do that play as hard as we do,” Culver said. “I just feel like we have more bodies and more legs and more stamina.”
With every other Big 12 team not being able to match West Virginia’s depth, WVU’s bench players can sub in and specifically target opponents who could be getting tired.
“You definitely got to pick and choose when you want to go (hard),” McNeil said. “If I’m going in and I know that a guy’s already been playing five, 10, 12, whatever minutes straight..we’re going to try and attack him.”
This strategy and mindset really put other teams at a disadvantage if they are playing with a short bench or anyone in foul trouble and the Mountaineers know this, according to senior Chase Harler.
“If a team’s only seven or eight deep they’re going to have a hard time competing with us, to be honest,” Harler said. “Any given night anyone can step up and hit big shots and have a career night.”
The Mountaineers’ next opponent is Kansas State at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Wildcats play eight or nine deep and have two players, Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra, averaging more than 30 minutes per game.