In West Virginia's 108-61 win over Manhattan on Monday night, the Mountaineers forced the Jaspers to turn the ball over 41 times — a school record. Head coach Bob Huggins' style over the years is to get up and down the floor, force turnovers and get easy transition buckets.
West Virginia's 5-1 start to the 2016-17 season is exactly that, as the Mountaineers surpassed 100 points three times in those six games, and are second in the nation in forced turnovers.
Saturday will be Huggins' and West Virginia's toughest test of the season by far as they travel to Charlottesville, Va., to take on sixth-ranked and undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers won their 24th consecutive game at home on Wednesday night with a 63-61 come-from-behind win over Ohio State. The Cavaliers trailed by as many as 16 in the game but rallied late to preserve their unbeaten record and home winning streak.
“We have played some solid basketball but we have to be ready,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said of his team moving forward. “We cannot afford another sleepy start.”
Virginia ranks eighth in the country in fewest turnovers as the Cavaliers have done a good job of taking care of the ball this season behind senior point guard London Perrantes. Despite five turnovers in Virginia's win over the Buckeyes, Perrantes turned the ball over just 10 times this season, and the Cavaliers turned it over just 61 times as a team. West Virginia will likely test the sure-handed Cavaliers in Saturday's matchup despite Virginia handling the Mountaineers' pressure last season.
The Cavaliers knocked off West Virginia 70-54 in last year's matchup and defense is still where Bennett and his team's mindset remains.
“Last year's team maybe had a little more firepower and could afford to be sleepy at times,” Bennett said. “Our message this year is 'be ready.' Our defense cannot take a possession off or get loose.”
While the Cavaliers don't have the firepower on offense they did last season, they have a balanced scoring attack. Virginia currently has five players averaging at least seven points with Perrantes leading the way at 10.6 points per game.
West Virginia also boasts a balanced scoring attack, with guard Nathan Adrian leading the way at 13.5 points per game.
Virginia will need to take a conservative approach to its matchup with West Virginia to avoid letting the Mountaineers control the game.
“You guys know from last year how tough it was, and they play the whole game pressing the ball,” Perrantes said of the Mountaineers. “We played a little bit of the offense that we will play against them tonight against Ohio State. We weren't planning on it, but it was just something we needed to do.”
The Cavaliers showed a four-guard lineup a few times in the second half against the Buckeyes that proved to work for Bennett's squad. Playing a lineup similar to that against West Virginia should help the Cavaliers take care of the ball and keep their turnover total down.
Virginia and West Virginia tip off at 2 p.m. on Saturday.