The 2017-2018 basketball season is here and “Press Virginia” is ready for another great year. The Mountaineers are ranked 11th in the AP Top 25 and 10th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. To conclude our preseason positional previews, we are going to feature the big men on the roster.
The Mountaineers lost two key post players after last season concluded. The remaining post players are all sophomores, meaning they are all young. Luckily for Coach Huggins, this group of young, big men has some experience and even greater potential. He will need this young group to immediately support the rebounding efforts for the team.
The three sophomore post players on this Mountaineer squad include Sagaba Konate, Maciej “Magic” Bender, and Logan Routt. In previous years, WVU has tended to lack a true center, but this group features two players that could be considered centers, although they are not listed as such. Bender and Routt are 6’10” and 6’11” respectively. While Konate is only 6’8”, his strength and physical presence make up for what he may lack in height. All of these players were able to see playing time last season and will definitely see more as their careers progress.
Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins
Sagaba Konate, 6’8, 260, So.
Sagaba Konate looks to be the starting big man for the Mountaineers this year. He saw consistent playing time last year and had a solid role coming off the bench for Coach Huggins. Konate averaged more than 10 minutes per game in his freshman campaign and played in every game last season. He also averaged more than four points per game and close to three rebounds per game last year. These numbers will likely improve as Konate gains experience and sees more playing time this season. Another statistic that Mountaineer fans hope he can improve on is his number of blocked shots. Konate averaged roughly 1.4 blocks per game last year and had a career high, five, against Oklahoma. He has also adopted Dikembe Mutombo’s finger wag to accompany his prolific blocks, and it has become a fan favorite during WVU games. Konate has also become know for his signature powerful, two-handed dunks.
The best game of Konate’s freshman season was in a Mountaineer victory over TCU. In this game, he had 13 points and eight rebounds, including six offensive rebounds, in just 15 minutes. Konate will have plenty of opportunities to improve on these career highs in his second season in Morgantown.
Best Case Scenario:
The physical presence and toughness that Konate brings will be huge for the Mountaineers this season. His defensive ability will be needed as he steps into a greater role this year. He will also need to contribute to rebounding. If Konate can stay out of foul trouble with increased minutes, he could develop into one of the better big men in the Big 12 as early as this season.
Maciej “Magic” Bender, 6’10, 250, So.
The next big man for the Mountaineers is Maciej “Magic” Bender. Last season, Bender saw playing time in 23 games and averaged more than six minutes per game. His best game of his freshman season was in WVU’s dominant win over Mississippi Valley State. In this game, Bender played 10 minutes and had nine points, including a three-pointer.
The Poland native had many moments last season when it appeared that he was not yet comfortable on the court when he played. Although many will remember that about his first season in Morgantown, it is important to remember the moments he had where he showed his great potential.
Best Case Scenario:
Bender’s size is not the only great thing about his game. He has the ability to shoot the ball, arguably better than any other big man on the team. He also has the potential to contribute to rebounding and transition offense, because of his outside ability. If Bender can become more comfortable and play at the necessary level defensively, he could potentially be a great post player for the Mountaineers for years to come.
Logan Routt, 6’11, 260, So.
The third and final big man on the roster is Logan Routt. He not only changed numbers this offseason, he also appeared to change personalities, too. During the charity exhibition game against Albany, Routt saw a great increase in playing time compared to that of last season, and he met the challenge. He appeared to be more comfortable than he had ever been on the court in the WVU Coliseum, and he is already showing great improvement from last season. This improvement was likely the reason he was awarded a scholarship during the offseason.
Best Case Scenario:
Last year Routt played in 11 games. His playing time during the charity exhibition game is likely an indicator that he will have an increased role this season. Coach Huggins also noted how Routt can contribute to the team’s rebounding efforts this year. If he continues to gain confidence and experience with increased playing time, Routt has the potential to develop into a solid big man for WVU.
Putting It All Together
The primary goals for the big men of this team will likely be to defend and rebound. Having solid defending in the paint will allow the guards and wing players to gamble a little more on the press. Solid defending will also allow these big men to stay in the game, which will in turn provide them with more offensive opportunities. These big men will also be able to create their own offensive opportunities if they can collect offensive rebounds.
Rebounding will also be a key aspect of their performances that Huggins will be factoring into their playing time. This does not necessarily mean he expects each of them to get 10 rebounds per game, but he will expect them to box out and create rebounding opportunities for the team. They will also be expected to make smart plays, avoid turning the ball over, and avoid getting into foul trouble (even though that can be sometimes be unavoidable in the Big 12).
Coach Huggins discussed the need to improve rebounding following the charity exhibition game, which is an area where all of these big men can contribute. They can also contribute to West Virginia’s signature focus, defense. If these post players are able to step up and take advantage of their new roles, they could be the difference between a good season and a great season.
This concludes the 2017-2018 Basketball Positional Previews. The Mountaineers open the season on tonight against #25 Texas A&M at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany. The game tips off at 6:00 p.m. and is on ESPN.