Five Keys To WVU Hoops Season
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As West Virginia opens its quest of the Big 12’s regular season championship tonight, the burning question isn’t how the No. 9 Mountaineers are going to win at Oklahoma State as much as it is how WVU can win the conference’s regular-season championship.
Ranked No. 7 in both polls, Bob Huggins’ team enters the season as the highest ranked team in the league, quite a feat in a 10-team conference in which five other teams are ranked and perenniel power Kansas isn’t even the second-highest-ranked team.
That honor belongs to a revitalized TCU team coached by Jamie Dixon, the old Pitt nemesis, at No. 10 with the Jayhawks at No. 11, surging Oklahoma at No. 12, Baylor at No. 18 and Texas Tech at No. 22.
How tough is this league? Oklahoma State was picked to finish last and comes into this game at 10-2 with the two losses to ranked teams, joining Texas among others who received votes.
So, how can WVU win the league?
Here’s five keys to the season:
No. 1: Play with an edge
This is from Huggins himself, a necessary ingredient in the brand of basketball he preaches, which is based on pressure defense and rebounding
“If we don’t play with an edge, we’re not very good,” Huggins said after a ho-hum performance against Fordham. “We didn’t play with an edge, our pressure was bad. The positive of it was how do you play as bad as we played and score 86 points?”
That edge he provides with his coaching methods, but this is a bit trickier this year than most, which leads to key No. 2.
No. 2: Keep Sagaba Konate on the court
If WVU is going to base its game on defense and rebounding, Konate is the key man.
A 6-8 center with limitless potential but still quite raw and immature, Konate possesses great leaping ability and timing, both of which he uses in being the rim protector and in grabbing boards.
Konate averages 6.7 rebounds a game, to rank eighth in the conference, and 2.9 blocks, to rank second, but he has played only 22.2 minutes a game, partly because he has gotten himself in foul trouble and been hit with a couple of technicals.
“The first thing we have to do is keep Sags on the floor,” Huggins said. “He can rebound, but you can’t rebound from the bench. He’s just learning the game. He puts himself in bad positions.
“It’s all about doing your work before your guy gets the ball and Sags has a hard time understanding that. He will, but he doesn’t have it right now.”
No. 3: Attitude
This is a team that believes in itself. It thinks it can win the league.
That is good. It is a necessary ingredient in being able to win the league.
But this is a league in which you are going to lose some games, probably more than one game.
How they respond to losses will be critical.
Think about it for a moment. Right now you will play five ranked teams on the road, plus two other teams that could creep into the rankings.
They can’t let one loss lead to two and two lead them to questioning themselves.
What’s more, right in the midst of conference play Kentucky comes into WVU for what promises to be the Game of the Year, but again if the ultimate goal is to win the league, you can’t sell out emotionally over that game.
Win or lose, you can’t let it affect the rest of the season.
No. 4: JC can’t do everything
Jevon Carter is the Mountaineers best player but he is not superhuman.
He is the leader and it’s fair to say that as he goes the Mountaineers go, but you can’t ask him to lead in scoring, assists and steals all at the same time.
Scoring is going to be tougher this year and he seems to know it, so he is passing better than ever, getting a career high 12 assists against Fordham.
“That’s what good players do,” Huggins said. “Everybody has been trying to gap him. Basically, they are trying to guard him with two guys on penetration and, quite frankly, he hasn’t shot the ball near as well.
“If you aren’t shooting as well, and someone else is shooting it better, get them the ball. JC wants to win. This thing about ‘I missed three, I have to prove I can make one’ is really crazy.”
Carter can score at will. His points become more necessary when Daxter Miles Jr. and/or Beetle Bolden are having an off night.
What Carter can’t be is a selfish shooter.
“He still has to take good shots, but he has to work a little harder to get good shots,” Huggins said.
“I’ve had scorers who were a little selfish and they are hard to play with. I don’t want him to be selfish. I want him to be aggressive. That’s a better word.”
No. 5: The Mountaineers must accept the grind of Big 12 play
We’re not talking here about simply facing an opponent that is capable of beating you every time out.
We’re talking about the grind of being in the Big 12 Conference.
“There’s a lot of things,” Huggins said. “We have a terrible disadvantage. We have a terrible disadvantage being in the Eastern Time Zone. We have a terrible disadvantage in the amount of miles we have to travel.
“So you have to take care of yourself. You have to stay in great shape, get your rest when you are supposed to rest. At the same time, you have to get in the gym when you have to practice.”