Many new faces, same unanswered questions at WVU
When the migration from Morgantown was finally over, there were three starters gone from the team that had just completed the 2013-14 season with a first-round loss in the NIT and a 17-16 record.
Coach Bob Huggins and his recruiters rounded up a slew of new faces, but had only reliable point guard Juwan Staten give him much stability. One guard fled to Michigan State. Another traipsed off to North Carolina State. And a third went back to the old sod in France to pursue a professional basketball career.
Playing in the Big 12 Conference against Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State doesn’t give a team much leeway when it comes to presenting a revamped roster of so many junior college transfers and first-year players.
An education in the losing column is not what anybody wants.
There’s not much left from last year’s team.
Devin Williams is a sure starter at center. Gary Browne is in his fourth year, and the guard is assured his on-court minutes. Huggins continues to use Nathan Adrian as a primary figure in his front court.
Sophomore forward Brandon Watkins is on the roster, but hasn’t distinguished himself in any way. Also returning is long-range shooter Chase Connor, who Huggins has mentioned is a player “who can stretch the defense.”
Fifth-year senior Kevin Noreen is injured and won’t be available until mid-January if at all.
Last season, the Mountaineers rarely displayed any enthusiasm. Rebounding was often left to somebody else. And defense was like a plague to too many players who only wanted the ball, the better to shoot it or keep it.
The questions about this team are numerous and often concern fundamentals necessary to winning.
What about individual defense and team defense? Huggins might want to use more pressure defense in his games leading up to the Big 12 schedule. He could employ 10 or more players in an effort to sap the collective energy of teams he believes are without much useful depth.
Rebounding — or lack of it — was a significant reason the Mountaineers lost nearly as many games as they won. Adrian is not an accomplished rebounder, defender or scorer but he doesn’t make glaring mistakes so he plays.
Rebounding and an infectious enthusiasm are two areas where huge strides have to be made.
Can newcomers Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton rebound? Are they capable defenders? What kind of basketball instincts and on-court intelligence do they bring?
With Adrian still receiving minutes, what does that say about the skills of newcomer BillyDee Williams?
With the departures of Eron Harris, Remi Dibo and Terry Henderson, West Virginia’s defense should improve at least marginally.
If Huggins is going to use as many as 12 or 13 players before he reaches the Big 12 portion of the schedule can the non-starters be used to West Virginia’s advantage?
Is the crowded cast of first-year players bringing enough “basketball intelligence,” selfless hustle and a caring for defense and rebounding?
There is always a watchful eye needed to keep away from too many fouls, game-losing misses from the foul line and finding poise during the pressure of intense Big 12 road games.
Staten is the preseason selection of the league’s coaches to be the Big 12 Player of the Year. He scored 18 points a game and had six rebounds and six assists per game last season.
Staten can’t get hurt. Sophomore first-year player Tarik Phillip would likely be Staten’s replacement in case of injury.
Other first-year guards are Daxter Miles, Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter. Those three are in Huggins’ group of 13 that he says will do some playing in the early, pre-conference games.
Williams is the team’s second-best player. Finding the third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-best is still a matter being worked on.
Enthusiasm usually outweighs a sackful of player shortcomings.
It was that way even before the 1959 Mountaineers almost won a national championship with firebrands Bucky Bolyard, Ronnie Retton, Willie Akers and Jerry West. With role players Bobby Joe Smith, Bob Clousson and Lee Patrone showing team-first, hustle-first personalities the Fred Schaus-coached team defeated Louisville on its home court in the national semifinals before losing a one-point verdict to California in the championship game.
Enthusiasm outweighs nearly everything on a basketball court.
Especially when you have a roster with seven new players and only two fulltime starters returning from a team that was troubled last season by more than the 16 losses it suffered.