As the West Virginia Mountaineers have ended their 2017 regular season and basketball season is in a lull, the crew here at the Musket sat down in a shady part of Winfield, WV while drinking appletinis in honor of a dear friend Smitty.
Jake Lantz: Hi guys, welcome back. Now that the season is over, and we wait for the bowl game, I have to ask What is your takeaway from the regular season?
Jordan Pinto: We kinda were who they thought we were. Sure, we probably gave some games away, and I'll always think we beat Texas with Grier, but in general, we beat who we should've beat and lost to who we should've lost to, which is kind of a bummer looking back cuz we were so close to something more.
JL: For me, the regular season, until the Texas game, played out about how I thought it would. I went into the season saying "If we get by Virginia Tech Hokies, we should be 4-0 going to TCU. Get by TCU Horned Frogs and then you've got the chance to make some real noise" but the VT and TCU games were tossups from the get go.
I would say that the Okie Lite game was the most frustrating because the defense came to play early and we should have put OSU in a hole. If the offense is able perform in the first half of that game, I think fans feel much different about this season, regardless of Grier's injury. The OSU game put a real damper on the season.
Michael Miller: I think Jordan really said it best. We were right about where I thought we’d be. We actually outperformed what all the national analysts said, which was 6-6. If Grier didn’t get injured vs. Texas Longhorns, we had a real shot to follow a 10-win season up with a 9-win season with a bowl win.
JP: Yep. And that's right where we should expect to be IMO - 8 or 9 wins a year, win our bowls, and make a run at the conference title run once a recruiting cycle or so. And don't look now, but the pieces line up very nicely for that title run to be next year. Defense took their lumps, but had some young guys step up and should be much improved next year, Will and Co are back on offense, and best of all, the conference is graduating a ton of talent and should be slightly down. If we can find someone to step in for Kyle Bosch and get one guy to step up on the outside on D, 2018 could be a special season.
Robert Hurst: Yeah that's pretty well stated. There was one really frustrating game and then one totally debilitating injury.
Looking back on the season What was the highlight of the season for you?
JP: Has to be the Texas Tech comeback right?
MM: The Texas Tech comeback. We could’ve packed it in there, but the team was determined to get that win. It was huge for the program.
RH: I think so. It's definitely the game that stands out most in my mind (positively) from the regular season. I think I will always remember how incredible Sills was when we needed a score, but that's not so much a highlight, as a bunch of them.
JL: For me, it was Virginia Tech and I know we lost the game but a) it cemented my belief that this team had the chance to do special things. There were questions about Will Grier and I wondered when he wasn't playing with SEC level talent but talent that would, at times, be inferior to his competition, how would he fare and that VT game proved to me that he was going to be special.
Also, I got to meet Bart and Smitty before I got drunk and then I got to meet Mike while I was drunk. So meeting some of you guys was fun
JP: Two specific moments that standout for me from a "GET F'ING HYPE" standpoint, despite both coming in losses, were Garys TD against Tech, and the blocked punt -> pick-6 sequence against Ok State. There were only about 35,000 in Mountaineer Field for the latter, but they were the exact 35 you'd want. That was a special moment despite the result.
Switching over to basketball for a moment, How do you feel about the squad now that they've rectified that opening day loss to TAMU
RH: I'm incredibly excited about this team. They are starting to answer all the biggest questions. They are largely able to play the press without a ton of foul trouble and have found a go to scorer in Carter. The defense will be even better, particularly in the half court, when they get Esa's length back in the lineup. If he can be another aggressor at the rim, and we can keep hitting shots, there isn't a team that scares me in the country.
MM: A lot better. That game was just bad all around. I mean, you’ve got your guys playing in a hangar on a military base half the world away at 2AM. It was a recipe for disaster. My real concern was how we would bounce back from that, and so far I’ve been blown away. If Esa can slot back into the rotation, and the team keeps this chemistry going, we are looking at a very special season.
JP: We have a lot of the same problems as we have the last few years - we struggle to score if we're not forcing turnovers, we don't have a consistent secondary scorer behind JC, and we don't have much of a half-court offense. However, we've improved drastically in one very important area - FT shooting. We're at about 75% this year up from about 68% a year ago, and that's already made a huge difference twice this year against Mizzou and Virginia. I agree with Robert, if we can keep hitting shots once we get Esa back, I think we'll have a lot to be excited about come March.
RH: I think that some combo of Daxter, West, Bolden, Ahmad will find a good secondary scoring option most nights. They've all shown that ability at times.
JP: Yep, the idea is for atleast two to be hot on a given night. On Huggs to find the hot hand and ride it, and so far he's done a good job. I think we're appropriately ranked at 11.
Where does JC rank for you guys in the Huggs era?
MM: He’s up there with Da’Sean
RH: That's a great question. Behind Butler and Jones right now.
JL: That's a great question Jordan. For me, JC is probably top 5, but behind Butler and Kevin Jones. I would put him ahead of Staten
RH: He has a chance this year to get to the top.
MM: Yeah. I’d say it’s Da’Sean - Kevin Jones - Jevon - Staten. After Staten, Truck maybe?
JP: Agreed on all points. I'd have him behind Da'Sean and KJ right now, but depending on how this season plays out...
MM: Forgot about Ebanks. Yeah, he’s #5
JP: No love for Cam? In all seriousness, I'd listen to a couple different arguments at 5. Nate's the sentimental pick, but obviously Ebanks was the better player.
JP: One of my biggest regrets is that Ebanks missed the press era.. Dude would've slayed at the top of our press - he's like the best possible version of that guy.
RH: Yeah, he's a more athletic and (probably) longer version of Esa, with better defensive instincts.
Now what about Kansas? They've lost back to back games and haven't looked like their dominating Big 12 self. Is that a fluke or are we looking at a real chance to unseat the kings?
JP: I think they're more vulnerable than they have been, but they're still really good. They've just lost to two good teams in Arizona State and Washington.
MM: I mean, this may be the year to win the conference, but Kansas is Kansas. They’re going to be right there as a favorite at the end
JP: Yep. We'll probably all murder each other at the top of the conference with Kansas somehow squeaking out the other side. As is tradition.
RH: It's not a fluke, but it may look like one in March. They are not nearly as intimidating as usual this year. They don't have the kind of size that usually gives us fits, and they probably "only" have 1 lottery pick. They do have Devonte Graham and Bill Self. So I agree with Mike, it's Kansas's conference to lose, until someone else actually beats them.
Robert, I saw you mention once before that this could be a year where something special happens becuase no team has other worldly talent that would seem to just say they are the pre-destined champion. How far can this team go this year?
RH: It's the most balanced season, at least so far as I can remember. UK and Duke are so young, KU and Arizona were preseason contenders that have shown that they are very beatable. Nova maybe? the best team. If Esa plays at a high level defensively and we can make shots, I think we can go on a 6 game winning streak against anyone I've seen so far. That's all it takes.
JP: Guard play and FT shooting are usually two great indicators for post-season success, so if we can keep that up then I think the sky's the limit. I don't think there's too many teams that want to see us in a one-off in March.
MM: If we continue to improve as the season goes, and don’t hit a slump for whatever reason, I feel that we have, at least, Elite Eight potential.
JP: Yep. Sweet 16 should be our baseline expectation right now. If we get knocked out before that I'd be disappointed.
RH: Yeah, losing on the first weekend would be a serious let down. After that, all it takes is one cold night or bad matchup and most anyone can lose on any given night.
Moving back to the foots ball for a moment, I noted yesterday after the verbal from Keith Washington that WVU now has the 15th ranked class on Rivals. How excited are you for this class?
JP: 10299290187/10. This is the best class in school history.
MM: Very excited, because this is a class you build a foundation on. I think Dana has gotten over a hump with this class, and I think we’ll start seeing top 20 classes more often than not. Once you start consistently getting elite recruits on campus, and they perform well, it’s a lot easier to pull in more with the next class
RH: We've utilized Ju'Co's and transfers effectively for years. Now we need to leverage this class into something special. This is the level that we have to recruit at if we want to have a chance to make the next step.
JL: That's my feeling as well. The 2014 and 2015 classes really hurt us with the top guys leaving and we've had to supplement for the past few years with JUCO. We currently have 23 players and only a couple JUCO, which means we should 3-4 years out of nearly everyone who signs which is huge. If next season goes as well as I think it could, you have the chance to convince players that 10-wins is more common with us and the next step is championships
MM: In addition to all of that, Lamonte McDougle being named a Freshman All-American is huge. That stuff plays with elite recruits. That’s what they’re looking for.
JP: Plus, Kwantel Raines!!!!!!!!
It does, so let's finish off the roundtable with the bowl game. How do you feel about the bowl game and the Big 12 bowls in general?
RH: In terms of matchups this year? or tie ins in general?
JP: Oklahoma has to beat Georgia. Has to. I like the matchups for both State and TCU, but none of that matters if Oklahoma flames out of the CFP.
MM: I’m okay with what we got. It’s an a opportunity for the team to get better, and it’s an opponent we’ve never seen in our lifetime.
JL: In terms of playing Utah, I think we've got a good shot, especially with Chugs finally getting some good practice time. Utah isn't particularly explosive so Chugs doesn't need to score 50 points to win this game, he mostly needs to be efficient and not do bad things
MM: And I believe the National Championship is Oklahoma’s to lose. Baker Mayfield, despite being the biggest douchebag on the face of the earth, is a legitimately good quarterback and the Sooners are loaded with talent.
JL: I don't really like our overall bowls only because outside of the Playoff/NY6, any bowl tie in feels small. I know the Russel Athletic Bowl is a solid upper tier bowl, but nearly all of the bowl ties lack the name recognition
RH: While the names of the bowls aren't all that recognizable, and the Big 12 Championship game probably robbed the conference of a New Years 6 game, the matchups will be a good barometer for the conference. I think that OU will get past UGA and then roast Bama in the title game.
JL: And yes, Im with mike that this is Oklahoma's year, Mayfield is a terror on the field and he's surrounded by guys with boatloads of talent
MM: Yeah, the Big 12’s bowl tie ins after the Camping World Bowl all kinda stink. There are some good matchups though.
RH: Utah is fine for us. We are likely gonna be running some crazy trick plays and wildcat action. We didn't need a big time spotlight, and Will needs to make sure his hand fits back together properly by next season.
MM: Exactly. Utah is the perfect opponent for us to run up against without our quarterback.
JP: As for us, I think Utah is better than their record. They have a couple close losses to some good teams. Overall, I like the matchup though. Should be a fun game.
RH: Pac-12 was a tough conference this year. The Ute's seemed to play to their competition.
MM: I have an acquaintance that’s a Utah fan, so it’ll be fun to talk shit with him the day of the game.
JP: I'm excited to see what Chugs can do with regular reps, and what Spavs can come up with to put him in positions to succeed.