Ah, college basketball. Happy days are here again. 13 win seasons and locker room disarray are a thing of the past. Now, the Mountaineers enjoy preseason expectations and put fear in the heart of opposing point guards trying to simply get the ball across half-court. Huggs said he would fix it and he did.
West Virginia comes into the 2015-16 college basketball season with expectations as high as they've ever been since joining the Big 12 conference. A sweet 16 appearance last year and only two departed seniors have the Mountaineers looking to make a deep March run.
And even better, with the youth on this squad and the stellar recruiting classes, Mountaineer basketball will be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.
But we'll get to that on another day. Today it's about the 2015-16 season, and what we can expect from #PressVirginia 2.0.
To honor the late great Hot Rod Hundley (who wore #33 and unfortunately passed away earlier this year), here are 33 questions I have about the Mountaineers this season.
1. Why did it take so long to have plans for a statue honoring the second greatest basketball player in WVU history?
Ok, this one really doesn't have to do with this season. But seriously? Why does it take the passing of a legend to finally get a plan in place for a statue? Check out these credentials:
- Second in school history in points scored (behind only Jerry West.)
- Third in scoring average (behind Jerry West and Wil Robinson.)
- Second in 30+ point games (behind only Jerry West.)
- First overall pick in the 1957 NBA draft
Not to mention, if you ask any old-timer who was around when he played, they'll tell you he was the most popular Mountaineer the school has ever had. AND he's a WV native. Yeah...I can see why it would take fifty eight years after he's done playing AND him passing away for this to happen.
I know the comeback will be "funding blah blah blah," but the man was a Mountaineer legend. It just sucks that he won't be there to see the statue go up. At least they waited only 53 years to retire his number and we were able to have one of the all-time great Coliseum moments:
*steps off soap box*
RIP Hot Rod.
2. Will Devin Williams fill the leadership void left by Juwan Staten & Gary Browne's graduation?
There's no question who everyone on the team looked to last year for leadership. Everything started and ended with Juwan Staten and Gary Browne. With those guys off campus, Devin Williams will have to be the guy to step up and be a more vocal leader for this squad.
In a recent interview, when asked if any of the players had taken him under his wing, the first player freshman Esa Ahmad mentioned was Devin Williams. That's a good sign.
3. Will they shoot the ball better?
Well, it'd be hard to shoot it much worse. West Virginia was at or near the bottom of every field goal shooting category in the conference. And some games, it was just plain ugly.
This season, while they probably aren't gonna be near the top of the league, they should be better. Jevon Carter has shown he can consistently make the three. Teyvon Myers was a scoring machine in junior college. Nathan Adrian can't shoot it any worse (plus he's healthy again). I'd guess they'll be just below average in the league in field goal percentage. That would be a win.
4. Will there be another "Monmouth" game to start the season?
Statewide panic. Fifty-six "Fire Huggins" message board threads. Hot takes for days.
West Virginia's first regular season game last season was a flaming bag of dog feces buried deep inside a dumpster fire. It wasn't pretty. Everyone (including me) overreacted. The Mountaineers were lucky to beat a team that went 18-15 and finished fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Turns out, the Morgantown sky wasn't falling, and the team went on to have a pretty decent season. Keep that in mind if they struggle against Northern Kentucky.
5. Will the Kentucky debacle affect how the media perceives them?
Not that it matters, but to many fans, it kinda does. West Virginia was riding high into their Sweet 16 matchup with the undefeated Kentucky MonStars when they got doubled up. Literally. In this hot take media environment we've created, the last game is the only game that matters.
If West Virginia had played anyone other than that NBA team masquerading as a college program, and merely lost by 12 instead of 39, they probably start the season somewhere in the 14-18 range. Because of the UK loss, they start the season ranked 23rd in the USA Today poll.
But again...not that it matters.
6. Will Devin Williams improve his passing out of the double team?
With Juwan Staten's graduation and the Mountaineers likely playing more inside out this season, Devin Williams is almost assuredly going to see plenty of double teams this season. Through two years in Morgantown, he hasn't shown a great ability to handle that second defender.
Last season Williams led the team and was sixth in the conference in total turnovers with 75, thanks in large part to his struggles making decisions out of the double team.
Fourteen more turnovers than your point guard who dominated the ball (and, granted, missed more games) is not a good look.
Williams will need to be "the man" this season for West Virginia. Defenses are going to be focusing on him more than ever. He'll need to show an ability to hit the open man when everyone is concentrating on him.
7. Was Nathan Adrian's shooting woes due to his injured wrist?
Boy, Nate had a rough season. And unfortunately, some Mountaineer fans wanted him kicked off the team and the salary that he doesn't receive taken away. (As I slowly step back from that hornet's nest...)
Turns out, he played the whole season with pain in his wrist and Huggins nor the staff knew anything about it. The result was an awful shooting season:
|Freshman Season||Sophomore Season|
|3P FG Made||39||11|
|3P FG Attempted||109||62|
|Points Per 40 Min||11.5||7.3|
He had surgery on the wrist in the offseason and should now be 100%. Bob Huggins recruited him in large part because he could shoot the ball. Expect him to do that much better this season.
8. Can Jonathan Holton stop fouling so much?
Holton led the Big 12 last season with 118 (!!) personal fouls, 17 more than the next highest total. Holton can be a menace on the court (also....a little crazy) but he has to be more under control this season. With him on the bench, the press just isn't the same. And if he has 3 fouls in the first 8 minutes, you can't keep him in there. The aggression is good, but hopefully a full season of Big 12 experience makes that aggression a tad more calculated.
9. Can Jevon Carter handle the point guard duties full-time?
Carter was solid at the point when Juwan Staten was out last season, but there's still concern whether he can do it for a full season. Huggins has said several times this offseason that in the past Carter hasn't shot the ball as well when he plays the point, which is why the idea of Tarik Phillip starting was tossed around. Most of the talk lately though is that Carter will be the guy, and Huggins has said that Carter wants the job and doesn't think it will affect his shooting.
I think he'll be fine. His turnovers per 40 minutes were actually less than Staten.
10. Who will be the team's second leading scorer?
Speaking of Carter. He's going to have to his increase his scoring load as well as run the offense. It's an important season for him. Things will start and end with Devin Williams, but someone else will need to jump up in that 13+ PPG range. Last season, only Staten and Williams averaged double figures. My guess this season? Williams, Carter, and Ahmad all will (and in that order.)
11. Will the Marshall game be horrible?
12. Can the new guys learn the press?
I mean, it's not rocket science, but there has to be an adjustment period at least for Ahmad and West. Teyvon Myers has some experience with the style in his previous stop. And hey, no one on the team last year had any experience with it and the results were pretty good.
13. Will the non-stop chaos continue?
That is to say, will they press all-game every-game again? While there were a few stretches where the Mountaineers didn't always press (Texas and Kentucky come to mind), they were few and far between. Will this roster be able to handle that? Or better yet, will they NEED to constantly create chaos to generate points?
West Virginia forced 678 turnovers last season, 66 more than anyone else in the nation.
14. How important will Beetle Bolden's injury look at the end of the season?
The initial plan was for Bolden to redshirt, but strong play in the offseason and in the Bahamas took that option off the table. Huggins was heaping praise on Bolden, saying that he made the best decisions in transition of anyone on the team.
And just like that, his season was over. Bolden reportedly tore his ACL trying to block a dunk in practice. With no other "true" point guard on the roster, Beetle's ball handling and decision making would have been a nice luxury.
Last season, the point guard position was the most solid on the team. Two senior floor generals who rarely make mistakes with the basketball? You can't ask for much more than that.
I don't think it's going to end up being a huge problem. I've said all along that Jevon Carter can play the point effectively. But having the option to put Bolden in there would have been nice.
15. Will Elijah Macon be in better shape?
I'm not picking on Macon. The guy has been through a heck of a lot these past couple years. First having to redshirt his first season on campus due to an injury, and unfortunately losing his mother last season.
When your injured for that long, it's hard to keep your body in peak physical shape. Everything that's come out of Morgantown this summer about Macon is that he's in the best condition he's been in since high school.
Macon has shown glimpses as to why he was a four star recruit (this being a good example). He can come into a game and make an impact. I'd feel more comfortable playing him and Williams together if he could bring his range out a little closer to what Devin's is.
16. Did the nonsense the media pulled on Daxter Miles affect his confidence?
The 24 hour news cycle can be vicious. And when Dax simply answered a question with confidence instead of giving the robotic athlete response, all of America pounced on him.
West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. on UK: "I give them them their props. Salute them to getting to 36-0. But tomorrow they’re gonna be 36-1."— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) March 25, 2015
Granted, Miles didn't help things any by going scoreless and getting a couple jumpers drained in his face by Devin Booker (who admittedly had a pretty awesome tweet after the game). But the noise was so loud at one point that it felt like he was becoming more vilified than certain college and professional athletes who beat women and drive drunk.
The media complains that athletes aren't honest and spew useless cliches like they're Crash Davis. But what is the benefit for the athlete? Media entities like ESPN run with anything they can to fill their gasbag 30 minute programs. They've created a climate where being boring and robotic is the only way to keep you out of the news.
All that being said, I don't think confidence will ever be an issue for Miles. As a true freshman he would bark at opponents all game. A little media scrutiny probably isn't gonna stop him from doing that -- and I hope it doesn't.
17. What will happen to the Charleston Civic Center on national television?
For the first time in the game's history, WVU vs. Marshall will be televised nationally on ESPNU. So what's your prediction on what goes wrong this year? Scoreboards not working? Uneven rims? Insulation falling on the court? All of the above?
18. Will Devin Williams improve his game enough to consider going pro?
He's on the league's radar now, but a monster season from Williams may be enough for him to test the draft waters. (And if you believe the rumors, that decision has already been made.)
The indispensable NBA draft website draftexpress.com currently has Williams going undrafted were he to enter the 2016 field. They rate him as the 37th best junior prospect in the nation and give this analysis on his player profile:
Devin Williams will be an interesting prospect to watch for the Mountaineers this season, with very defined positive attributes, but also some very clearly defined weaknesses that could be difficult to overcome. He has the ability to combine a throwback big man, with an imposing presence in the post and on the glass, with a burgeoning jump shot, which could create an intriguing inside/outside combination. A tough and physical rebounder who can also step away from the hoop is something virtually any team could use.
However, while his physical profile in terms of size and strength form the basis of part of his intrigue, his physical profile also provides perhaps his biggest question marks, this time in the form of a lack of explosion around the rim and struggles with lateral foot speed away from the hoop, which becomes a bigger concern at the next level. How well he is able to combat these problems will be key when trying to project how legitimate of a prospect Williams is going forward.
I'm not sure how much staying all four years is going to change what's in the profile. I think it'd be best for him to stay, but going pro after this season isn't out of the question.
19. Can Tarik Phillip handle an expanded role?
Towards the end of the season, Phillip really started to show his value to this team. There was definitely an adjustment period, not just in the style of play, but with the intensity. You'll recall both Phillip and Paige were sat for a game last year because they weren't bringing the effort Bob Huggins demands.
The message was received, and Phillip stepped up in big moments, especially late in the Buffalo game.
This season Phillip will have more responsibility and will be asked to share at least a portion of the ballhandling duties with Jevon Carter. Phillip is a beast on defense, and makes decent decisions with the basketball, but his shooting has to improve (but who on this team doesn't need to improve their shooting?). He shot just a hair over 21% last season from three. Ideally, that number improves by at least 10% this season.
20. What's the over/under on "Bob Huggins Smiles" this year?
1.5? Is that too generous? And we aren't counting the "That call was so bleeping bad that all I can do is look at you and smirk" expressions. Legit happiness where Huggs is satisfied with what's going on in the game. Remember, this is what he looks like when his team is up 12 in the first couple minutes of a game:
Take the under.
21. Can the staff keep everyone happen with their minutes?
Last year this wasn't an issue. Even though the team went 10 deep and some quality players didn't get a ton of run, you didn't hear much about guys being unhappy. Can that keep up this year? The style the Mountaineers play means lots of guys need minutes, and only a few are going to get a TON of minutes.
22. Should we expect anything from freshman LaMont West?
Probably not. West was a late addition to the team after BillyDee Williams transferred. His recruitment really started to pick up during his final year of high-school basketball.
West was a late-bloomer. In his own words, "I used to suck." Hopefully not anymore. I would expect West to mostly get scrap minutes late in games that are already decided, which is completely fine. West Virginia has the depth to bring guys like West along slowly.
23. What about the walk-ons? Can any of them contribute?
Last season, walk-on Chase Conner played legit minutes in some big-time conference games. He was on the floor against Kansas when Juwan Staten went coast-to-coast. Conner left the program this offseason, transferring to Fairmont State. That leaves three walk-ons listed on the official roster: James Long, Richard Romeo, and Logan Routt. Routt is intriguing, if for no other reason than his 6'11 height. If you get anything at all from any of these guys, it's an added (and unexpected) bonus.
24. Is Teyvon Myers the scoring machine that some think he is?
There was a question as to whether or not Myers would be declared eligible in time to play this season, but everything is worked out and he's ready to go. Last season the Mountaineers desperately needed someone who could create their own shot when the offense stalled and defenses packed the paint against Juwan Staten.
Granted it was junior college, but Myers had no problems creating on his own last season for Williston State College in Jaysean Paige.. He led the nation with 25 PPG and shot nearly 37% from three. That would have placed him third on the Mountaineers, behind Gary Browne (graduated) and
Obviously he's not going to approach those scoring numbers this season, but his explosiveness putting the ball in the hoop will be a welcomed addition to a team that last season would go several minutes without even resembling a functioning offense.
25. Will Esa Ahmad be one of the best freshmen in America?
Ahmad is the most highly touted recruit the Mountaineers have brought in since Devin Ebanks. A four-star prospect by all major recruiting services, Ahmad was ranked the 46th best high school player in America by ESPN.
Can he live up to the hype? All indications point to him being a starter on the team from day one. Bob Huggins has said he can play anywhere from 2-4, and I can't help but see a little Da'Sean Butler in him when I watch his highlights. Butler averaged 10 PPG in his first season in Morgantown. That 2007 West Virginia team had better scorers than this season's squad (Frank Young, Joe Alexander, Alex Ruoff), so Ahmad will be asked to do more offensively outta the gate than Butler was.
26. Has Jonathan Holton added to his offensive game?
Holton is a heck of an athlete, and plays like this one against George Mason makes you wonder what he could become if he were more aggressive on the offensive end:
Too many times last season Holton settled for low percentage threes early in the shot clock. I'd like to see him put the ball on the floor a bit more and see what happens.
27. How many "correct" calls will the Mountaineer fans complain about?
There's nothing quite like a big game in Morgantown. The crowd is hyped and the place is rocking...and every single call that is made against the Mountaineers is met with an uncontrollable BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
Questionable calls I understand. Ones that could go either way? Sure. Boo the heck out of the officials. But when it's blatantly obvious that Jonathan Holton hacks a guy driving in the paint, let's just accept the ruling and move on. Please?
I couldn't be the only one who feels this way, right?
....Oh I am? Ok...moving on.
28. How big would an early season victory over Virginia be?
Let's just say there isn't a ton of powerhouse teams in WVU's non-conference schedule. But on December 8th, the Mountaineers will have a chance to see how they stack up against the nation's elite. The Cavaliers start the season ranked 6th in the USA Today poll after winning 30 games last season.
The matchup in MSG is going to be an absolute slugfest between two of the more physical teams in America. I'm really looking forward to this one.
Okay, time for some useless predictions..
29. Who will be the most improved player on the team?
There are lots of candidates, considering six guys in the rotation last season were playing their first games for the Mountaineers and improvement is expected from all of them.
But I'm going with Jevon Carter. He's going to be taking on a much bigger role this season, replacing one of the best point guards in WVU history. He's now got a year under his belt and had to be "the guy" for short stretches last season. Huggs will put him in a position to succeed just as he did with Staten.
He's the best shooter on the team, and he's going to have the ball in his hands a ton. Look for some impressive box scores.
30. Will anyone on the team receive postseason awards?
He didn't make the preseason All-Big 12 team (that honor went to Rico Gathers, Georges Niang, Perry Ellis, Buddy Hield, and Isaiah Taylor), but I could see Devin Williams being on that team at the end of the year. The offense is going to run through Williams and he is going to have every opportunity to stand out on a pretty darn good team.
Esa Ahmad is also likely going to get the counting stats that will attract some all-freshmen team consideration.
31. How many games will they win?
Just a reminder...these are "useless" predictions that no one can really make with any kind of certainty. With that being said, I think last season's number (25) is a good place to start. The non-conference schedule is fairly soft, and they should be sitting on at least 11 wins before conference play.
32. Where will they finish in the Big 12 regular season standings?
3 or 4 feels like the right number to me. The Big 12 is going to be incredibly tough again this season. Three teams are ranked in the top 8 and five in the top 23.
But I think this team can be really, really good. Finishing third or fourth would be a success. For the record (and I'll be coming out with Big 12 power rankings soon), here's how I would stack up the top five to start the season:
3. Iowa State
4. West Virginia
33. What seed will they get in the NCAA tournament?
Again, 3 or 4 feels like the number. But maybe I'm drinking the kool-aid.
One thing is for sure, this team is set up for a nice run in 2015-16 and beyond. Enjoy the ride.