In case you’ve missed it, the West Virginia Mountaineers have lost four of five and basketball has been cancelled now that we sit at a paltry 16-5 and second place in the Big 12.
Jokes aside, there are clear problems that need to be addressed if this team wants to make a deep March run and some lineup changes should be looked at to see if this team could be sparked for a February-March run.
Don’t go crazy, but tweak the starting lineup.
I’ll start this off with one of my basketball pet peeves: too much value being put into who starts and who comes off the bench for any given time. Normally, I’m a stickler for continuity in your starting five and managing your rotation minutes to determine who finishes rather than starts. However, I think one of the main missteps this season was not starting Esa Ahmad the moment he became eligible. Now, before the Teddy Allen bellied Sneeches try to burn me at the stake, yes, he’s been bad. The good news is I don’t have to go back very far to defend my point of taking a low performing bench player and sticking him back into the starting lineup: Nate Adrian.
Lineups in basketball are 90% mental and Huggins putting the trust in Nate to enter the starting lineup was a major moment. Nate responded by being the energy that ran the Press Virginia scheme. Huggins doing the same with Esa can provide the same spark, as he seems massively uncomfortable in a bench role. A starting lineup of Carter, Miles, Ahmad, Harris, and Konate provides a stable group of veteran leadership. Dax has been a disaster (and when you’re arguing reasons for this slide he should be far and away number one), stripping him of a starting spot at this point would likely do a lot more harm than good. This lineup also allows you to bring two potential hot shooting bucket getters off the bench in Beetle Bolden and Lamont West (number two on that list of reasons, by the way).
Sagaba Konate should be rotation-proof.
Admittedly, I’m not sure if this is a conditioning problem or a rotation problem, but I’m going to address it regardless. Sagaba Konate should not be leaving the floor for reasons besides foul trouble. Even a gradual drop off to what he brings to this team does not exist on the current roster. Logan Routt and Maciej Bender are serviceable in small doses but aren’t even in the same league as Konate when it comes to changing the game. Derek Culver’s failure to qualify hurt our depth in this regard but it is what it is at this point.
Consider burning Brandon Knapper’s redshirt.
This point is almost entirely dependent on health, but injecting a hungry young guard to the mix may be a potential fix for times when the offense stagnates. Adding another guard to the mix also helps us in a critical area: available depth.Part of the reason we’re struggling with late game offense is press-related exhaustion that makes our shots flat and can be brought back as a reason for lazy offensive sets. Adding Knapper to the mix isn’t a panacea but it adds another body to a system that thrives on depth.
This goes to our team and to our fans. It’s still January. We just faced our toughest stretch of games this season and we did a lot of it facing Saturday-Monday travel turnarounds that are murder on any team, let alone one that travels more than anyone not in the American Athletic Conference and presses full court for 90% of every game they play.
There are problems, but they’re the same problems we’ve had for a long time, dating back to our Final Four season and beyond. West Virginia is not a school that is going to be able to consistently recruit elite offensive players who will also play the style of defense that we require to win in this league. We’ve tried to win in this league with half-court defense and some shooters, and it led to the worst seasons of Bob Huggins’ career.
We are Press Virginia, for the good and the bad that comes with it. These are the problems we’ll run into every year and the best will overcome.