West Virginia faces thicket of experienced Big 12 teams
A detailed survey of West Virginia’s basketball roster shows a long list of players who helped the Mountaineers to a 25-10 record and NCAA tournament wins over Buffalo and Maryland.
However, that long list of experienced players hasn’t prompted any stares or second glances from the rest of the teams in the player-rich Big 12 Conference.
That’s because Kansas has four starters returning, Oklahoma has four starters from last season, Iowa State brings back another four starters and so does Texas and its new coach Shaka Smart, who was a Virginia Commonwealth last year.
How much will the Mountaineers miss Juwan Staten and Gary Browne from last season’s back court?
Even as he prepares for another season with his pressure defense as his best weapon, will Bob Huggins find a useful point guard when the fullcourt defense doesn’t rattle Kansas, Iowa State or Baylor?
Huggins has guards enough to interchange them almost like hockey teams changes lines.
From last year’s team are Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige. A point guard has to be able to make free throws to be useful in a game’s last minutes. Miles made 53 percent of his free throws and Paige also made 53 percent of his foul shots.
New to this year’s roster are 6-foot-2 Teyvon Myers from Williston State and 6-foot freshman James Bolden.
The West Virginia front court also has some interchangeable players, but the one player who must stay healthy and be consistently productive is center Devin Williams.
Jonathan Holton is usually instrumental in making the fullcourt pressure a thing of West Virginia beauty. But his constant foul problems limited his effectiveness in too many games in 2014-15.
Expected to be among the Mountaineers’ leading scorers and rebounders is 6-foot-8 freshman Esa Ahmad.
Huggins will play 6-foot-9 Nathan Adrian even though he made a stunning 17 percent of his many three-point field goal tries.
Elijah Macon is another 6-foot-9 player who has trouble scoring and staying out of foul trouble.
Another new possibility is 6-foot-8 freshman Lamont West, but he won’t be in the top nine in Huggins’ player rotation when the season begins.
Brandon Watkins is a junior, but his contributions have always been minimal.
West Virginia’s pressure will be its trademark. The defense will ruin some of the lesser teams on the schedule, and it will wear on the better teams that are not as deep as the Mountaineers.
Williams scored over 11 points a game and averaged eight rebounds. Cater scored eight points a game and both Holton and Miles scored seven points a night.
If a reliable point guard isn’t found, then conference teams may just show West Virginia a man-to-man defense. If there is some constant success at point guard, then teams will try a zone defense to see if Adrian can make more than 17 percent of his long-range shots.
As is usually the case with West Virginia teams, their free throw accuracy in the last minutes will win or lose some conference games.
The most interesting of the non-conference games are against Virginia in New York City and against either San Diego State or California in Las Vegas.
The Big 12 schedule begins on January 2 at Kansas State and right back on January 4 at Texas Christian.
West Virginia had 25 wins and was 11-7 in conference games.
But it lost the final game in the NCAA tournament when Kentucky paid no attention to the pressure defense and ran away to a 78-39 win over the Mountaineers.
Huggins can use up to 12 players per night in the early season. But when the Big 12 schedule comes he will need somebody to score in a halfcourt offense and somebody to make free throws both on the road and at home.
Pressure defense won’t beat the better teams.
But it will maul some of the lesser lights.