West Virginia basketball season is underway. We brought in Blue & Gold News' MIchael Carvelli to talk about
the noles his expectations for this season.
Matt: Let's start from the top with Juwan Staten. What are his chances of replicating or improving on his amazing 2013-2014 season? Beyond that, what do you think of Juwan as an NBA prospect? My opinion is mid-late First Round with a potential to be a fringe lottery pick, but what are your thoughts on that?
Michael: It’s going to be tough for Juwan to top what he did a year ago statistically speaking, but I think what you’ll see this season is an improved Staten in terms of running an offense. He spent the summer working with a lot of great players, including NBA point guard Kyrie Irving. Staten said those experiences taught him more about running a team than anything, and I think that’s going to be the big thing you see differently with him this season. He’ll understand when is the time to take the game over himself and he’ll know when to defer to his teammates and get everyone else involved. There’s no question that this is his team this season and I think that’s going to be a situation he’s going to thrive in.
As for his NBA future, I’m still a little unsure. I think he has all the tools to be a solid NBA point guard and should be pretty good if put in the right situation. With that said, I’m terrible at guessing what these teams will do in the draft. I think he’s a first rounder, but it depends on how many teams need/will draft point guards in those first 30 picks. Right now, I would probably rate Staten as the fourth or fifth best PG in the draft next year behind Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones, Andrew Harrison and then right in the mix with the likes of UNC’s Marcus Paige, Wichita’s Fred VanVleet and Utah’s Delon Wright. From here, a lot of what Staten does this year will help determine how much he can stand out and move up or down among that group of guys. If he can show he’s a tough floor general who can run the offense the way I think he can, while showing that he’s improved shooting from the perimeter, he could move up into being pretty solidly in that first round.
Matt: A ton of newcomers each season seems to be the new norm (for better or worse) for Mountaineer basketball. Who among the new faces is going to have the biggest impact for WVU this year on offense--replacing the scoring of Harris and Henderson--and defense?
Michael: I’m not entirely sure that this is going to be a team that looks to just one or two of those newcomers to take over replacing that scoring that was lost when Harris and Henderson decided to leave. The one thing you can say about this group so far from the little bit we’ve seen of them is that it’s a team that has the potential to be pretty deep and can get contributions from just about everyone on the roster. With that said, in terms of shooting and scoring, I think you’ll see guys like Daxter Miles, Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter take a little bit of that load that was left. From what we’ve seen and heard, those are the guys that can shoot it pretty well - in addition to returners like Gary Browne and Nate Adrian.
Defensively, I’m pretty excited to see what these new guys will bring to this team as it tries to move into being a team that can bring a ton of full-court pressure for the majority of the game (maybe even all 40 minutes). You saw what a guy like Paige can do with his six steals in the exhibition against Shepherd and a lot of the plays those guys made in that one quickly turned into easy buckets in transition, which is something that will definitely help a Mountaineer team that is looking for ways to score this year. I’m also pretty excited to see what someone like Tarik Phillip can bring to the table for this group if he can consistently make his way into the rotation. For a team that has had trouble finding guys to guard the ball at times the last few years, Phillip can bring exactly that and he has the length that can bother a lot of guards.
Of course, you also have to be pretty excited about what Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon can do on both ends of the floor now that they’re eligible. The two of them will provide some much-needed help on the glass and can both do some things using their versatility to score the ball when they’re in the game. It will be interesting to see how Huggins mixes in rotations with those two and sophomore Devin Williams.
Matt: Now on the other hand, which returning player do you see improving the most from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015?
Michael: Speaking of Williams, he’s my pick for this one. I think this needs to be a year that Devin Williams really emerges into a go-to threat on the low block that West Virginia has not had since Kevin Jones left. He worked with KJ in the offseason and when you watch the two play you can definitely see some similarities: Both have great hands, both know how to use their bodies to get position and both have an excellent knack for finding ways to grab rebounds in bunches. Last year was a big adjustment for Williams, who was looked at to be a major contributor from the day he walked onto campus as a true freshman. You could tell it took him a little more time than even he expected it to, and the result was a pretty up and down year for him. This year I think you’ll see a kid who knows what he’s supposed to do and will be able to step up and add some more polish to his inside game. With the rate at which he’s able to grab offensive rebounds, if he can learn to consistently finish when he gets the ball down low, Williams could blossom into a very dependable big man in the Big 12 this season.
Matt: How do you see this season shaking out? Is this finally going to be the year where the Mountaineers return to the NCAA tournament, or are we looking at another medicore season and an NIT berth at best?
Michael: I’m oddly optimistic about this season, even though I haven’t watched about half of the players expected to be in the rotation this season play in an actual game yet. I’m a sucker for a team that looks like it enjoys being around one another - I think that chemistry is usually just bound to show once they step on the floor together - and it really seems like this team has that more than either team WVU has had the last couple seasons. The roles are defined for this team. Juwan Staten is its leader, and everyone seems more than willing to let the senior be the alpha dog for this team and let it be his team to run. I can see 20 games on the schedule that this team could potentially win, and that’s a number that I think gets them in the NCAA tournament, but there’s a lot that needs to be seen still.
The fact of the matter is that there is only one player on the entire Mountaineer roster with NCAA tournament experience (Gary Browne) and six guys who have never played in a Division I college basketball game. The biggest factor in figuring out whether or not this team will have a chance to do what it needs to make the tournament will be watching the way it handles the first time adversity is thrown its way. If they lose a few games in a row will they crumble or will they make the necessary adjustments to be able to bounce back and roll with the punches? I feel good about this team’s ability to do that because of the style WVU will play, but it will be very interesting to see how that plays out. I do think this team can find a way to potentially finish in the top half of the Big 12 and earn an at-large bid back in the Big Dance.
Matt: Finally, I'm going to ask the question I never thought I would have to. If the answer to the previous question ends up being the latter, is it time to start questioning Bob Huggins' job security? There's been a lot of mediocre basketball in Morgantown, recruiting hasn't panned out, and there's been a ton of turnover. Is Huggins going to be on the hot seat?
Michael: It really is weird that we’re having this conversation five years after making a Final Four run, but I think it’s definitely a debate worth having. Personally, I don’t think he’s in any trouble quite yet. It seems like things are moving in the right direction and there are good players both currently with the team as well as on the way in over the course of the next year or so … but this is something we’ve all said at points during the last few seasons. I think Huggs is fine, but things will need to start to work back toward a point where WVU can at least be back in the conversation toward getting to the tournament. If the Mountaineers struggle again this season, I think the 2015-16 season could be a very important one in the Huggins era. But, of course, I think this team will be better than a lot of people do, so I am leaning toward Huggins being just fine once this season is over.
Matt: Bonus - Who would win in a fight between Voltron and the original Power Rangers Megazord?
[Author's note: I'm counting this for football season because we had some missed weeks so Megazord takes the lead at 4-3-1]
Thanks again to Michael for the insights. This was planned to be out last week, but life got in the way. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @Carvelli3