Early Reviews: WVU Basketball Team Has Lots Of Options
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Judging a team from an intra-squad scrimmage is full of potential pitfalls, but it’s hard not to be at least encouraged by the play of West Virginia’s men’s basketball team in the Gold-Blue Debut last Friday night. While there were some problems on display, most notably WVU’s propensity to throw bad entry passes into the post, there was enough – more than enough? – good to send onlookers home with some optimism about the upcoming season.
The overriding thought is that the Mountaineers aren’t deficient at any one position, or in any major phase of the game, other than those unexplainable errors in passing the ball at times. WVU has multiple options at each position, and should not be dependent on one or two players having a good game in order to have a chance to win.
Herewith, then a few more thoughts from the action, which was comprised of a normal first half along with a second that featured a running clock.
— Logan Routt gives the Mountaineers three reliable options in the post. There wasn’t much doubt that Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe were going to attack the boards and be threats in the lane, but Routt proved that his dominance in Spain wasn’t solely due to the lack of height of the opposition. Routt ran the floor very well, got to the rim and defended Tshiebwe and Culver, who were participants on the seemingly-loaded Blue team. Routt’s Gold squad (actually clad in gray) took that challenge to heart, and with his 12 points and six rebounds contributing heavily, took home a 67-54 win.
This isn’t to say that Routt is going to be a double-double machine this year. However, there’s not going to be a drop-off when he enters the game, and his nicely-developed jump hook, along with better elevation and quickness, make WVU formidable inside. He also runs the floor the best of the three.
• Oscar Tshiebwe put up a very quiet double-double, along the way nearly wrecking the rim with three big dunks. Along with Culver and Routt, the Mountaineers should, at the very least, be able to battle any foe on the glass this year.
• The Mountaineers, as a group, can shoot and score it. Sean McNeil could create an instructional video right now on how to release a jumper, and as Bob Huggins has said more than once, you’re kind of surprised when one of his open shots doesn’t go in. Miles McBride and Taz Sherman can also snipe from distance, as can forward Emmitt Matthews. That trio can also drive it and score, making them difficult to guard.
The increase in the number of shooters should release some pressure from point guards Jordan McCabe and Brandon Knapper in feeling like they have to make a number of shots from long range, and that could help them be more relaxed in their overall games and in running the team. On the night, WVU was a combined 12-29 from 3-point range. That will win a lot of ball games.
• One place that WVU isn’t particularly deep is at the three, or wing forward spot, where Emmitt Matthews is set as the starter. However, Jermaine Haley can easily play there, even if that removes some chances for him to post up smaller backcourt players when he is working at guard. In this game, Haley ran the floor better than anyone, and converted a couple of transition hoops while scoring 15 points. The Mountaineers can also run three guards easily alongside two post players, and should be able to put any number of lineups on the floor.
• Taz Sherman is an EverReady Bunny. The junior college transfer was all over the floor, hitting threes (4-6) while also driving the lane and baseline on his way to a game-high 18 points. He defended well, dished out two assists and grabbed six rebounds. It’s going to be tough to keep him off the floor, and he is just the type of boost player Huggins loves to bring in off the bench. He might end up being sort of a combination of the skills of Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip, which would make him an outstanding player.
• A wildcard is Gabe Osabuohien, the Arkansas transfer who is still awaiting word on his appeal for eligibility this year. The best way to describe is play is that he showed up in about half of the frames I shot on the evening. He’s always around the ball, defending, hustling for rebounds, getting into passing lanes and pounding the glass. While WVU can still be very good if he can’t play this year, without question he would be a major addition. He would be able to back up Matthews, freeing Haley for more guard duty, and add more defensive chops to the team. There is still no word as to when a decision on his eligibility might come, which is par for the course for the NCAA.
• WVU isn’t going to press full court much, but it is still going to put pressure on the ball. The Mountaineers jumped into several traps on the perimeter, and while they didn’t show anything in terms of what alignments they might use in extending pressure to halfcourt, the team should be capable of doing so. Culver, Tshiebwe, Matthews (who has grown a couple of inches) and Haley all have good length to extend into passing lanes, and McBride and Sherman are tough defenders. The post trio is also capable of defending the rim if pressure gets defeated out front.
There, are, as noted, still some areas of concern. With three bigs capable of posting up, not to mention Haley, McBride and Sherman working down from the perimeter, it’s vital that WVU not throw the ball away when trying to get it inside. This isn’t just a West Virginia problem – it’s one of the lost fundamentals of the game. If the Mountaineers can reclaim it, they should add several scoring chances to their side of the ledger in each contest. However, if they continue to throw it away, some of their scoring advantages inside will be lost. The trio of Mountaineer big men combined for 20 buckets in the paint in the shortened game, so that’s an area they don’t want to squander.