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Florida vs. West Virginia: Can the Gators take Mountaineers' zone press?

Florida faces its greatest offensive challenge yet this season: Press Virginia.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The nickname is as cute as it is simple: Press Virginia. That's what West Virginia's aggressive 1-3-1 zone defense, adopted just last season as a response to ebbing defensive intensity against the Mountaineers' new Big 12 foes, has turned Bob Huggins's program into — a squad known for its style as much as its results.

But the press is not new for Huggins, per se, given that he's authored two books on press defense. And the results, leading into the Mountaineers' showdown with Florida in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday (noon, ESPN or WatchESPN) are astounding.

West Virginia is No. 1 nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing 0.874 points per possession, or two points per 100 possessions better than Florida's 0.894 points per possession, which ranks fourth nationally. The Mountaineers' defense ranks first nationally in turnover percentage, steal percentage, and three-point percentage, too, and they have the third-shortest defensive possessions in the country, on average, forcing turnovers or giving up easy buckets far more often than they do anything else.

The relentlessness extends to offense, too, where the 'Eers are second in offensive rebound percentage and fourth in free throws attempted per field goal. Press Virginia attacks, and attacks, and attacks, and its opponents fold: Only Virginia, which shot brilliantly, Oklahoma, which has Buddy Hield, and Texas, which slowed its game against the Mountaineers to a crawl, have been able to defeat West Virginia this season.

And that, frankly, doesn't leave too much room for hope for Florida. When Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill are on, they can stand up to a press, but Hill's carelessness with the ball and Chiozza's willingness to settle for bad shots could both be fodder for the Mountaineers. John Egbunu is a sure bet to be swarmed in the low post, and the 1-3-1 is designed in part to make post-entry passes difficult. Dorian Finney-Smith will struggle to drive from the wings.

And trusting Florida to shoot down any team is a fool's errand, despite recent improvements from distance.

So for the Gators to stage an upset on this Saturday, and take down a team that appears likely to be a top seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, they may well need to out-press Press Virginia. They could use some cheap points off turnovers, some short possessions funnelled to Egbunu at the back of a press, some free throws — precarious though those are for the Gators — derived from playing physically against pressing defenders.

Beating this team, though, would be beyond impressive.