Opinions On WVU’s 2018-19 Basketball Fortunes Vary
For every positive, there is usually an equal negative.
West Virginia’s 2018-19 men’s basketball team is still five months away from beginning its regular season, but it is already getting plenty of love for the year to come, though there is also some degree of hate.
Many publications and websites have recently updated their way-too-early top 25 rankings to reflect what underclassmen stayed in the NBA Draft pool and which ones returned to college.
“West Virginia has finished first or second in defensive turnover rate for the past four seasons, a streak that aligns with the presence of guard Jevon Carter,” wrote ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf. “Bob Huggins has parted with critical players in the past, but Carter has been the identity of the program over the past four seasons.
“Still, a West Virginia team constructed around Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Sagaba Kontate (3.2 BPG) can still tussle with the best of the Big 12. Both Konate and Ahmad withdrew from the NBA draft – good for the Mountaineers, bad for the Big 12.
“The Mountaineers won’t replace an impactful player like Carter,” concluded Medcalf. “With their style, however, and the returning talent, they’re still a top-tier squad in the Big 12.”
ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi forecasts that West Virginia will be a No. 5 seed in next year’s NCAA Tournament. He places them in the South Region facing the winner of the No. 12 play-in game between USC and Marquette.
SI.com’s Molly Geary also has WVU ranked No. 13 nationally.
“Both Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate are returning to Morgantown, which should keep the Mountaineers competitive in the Big 12, albeit a rung below loaded Kansas,” Geary wrote. “The defense will take a hit without Jevon Carter, but you can always count on Press Virginia to wreak havoc.”
ESPN.com and SI.com each rank Kansas as No. 1 in the nation heading in to this year. The Jayhawks did suffer significant losses, including underclassman Lagerald Vick’s decision to remain in the NBA Draft. But KU big man Udoka Azubuike decided to withdraw from the draft and return to Kansas for another year, and he’ll be joined by three top 40-national recruits and three high level transfers who will be eligible this year. Other Big 12 schools in the ratings are Kansas State (No. 12 by ESPN and No. 14 by SI) and TCU (No. 22 by SI and No. 23 by ESPN).
The most optimistic view of WVU comes from Kyle Kensing of Athlon, who ranks the Mountaineers No. 8 nationally.
“The loss of Jevon Carter cannot be overstated, as the Chicago-tough guard was the heart and soul of a West Virginia team that reached back-to-back Sweet 16s,” wrote Kensing. “However, Bob Huggins and West Virginia won big at the draft deadline with Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate each coming back to Morgantown. The duo gives a talented Mountaineer roster two solid cornerstones to perhaps push for the Big 12 regular-season title that eluded them this past season – assuming No. 1 Kansas can be challenged.”
Like ESPN and SI, Athlon rates Kansas as No. 1 nationally, while it has K-State No. 13 and TCU No. 17.
CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm doesn’t think quite as highly of West Virginia as some of the others. While Palm still has the Mountaineers in next year’s NCAA Tourney field, he places them as a No. 7 seed facing No. 10 Davidson in the Midwest region.
But even Palm seems much higher on WVU than does James Murphy of 12up.com. Murphy lists WVU as one of the four most overrated teams on the early top 25, joined by Michigan State, Nevada and Nebraska.
“The Mountaineers continued to show themselves as one of the better defensive teams in the country last year, making it all the way to the Sweet 16,” wrote Murphy in a recent 12up.com article. “However, Jevon Carter’s departure for the NBA and a Big 12 Conference that’s always deep will have them finishing a lot lower than eighth in the country (as listed by Athlon).”
So, the opinions on West Virginia vary, though most thus far have been optimistic. The Mountaineers have quite a while before they get a chance to prove these prognostications right or wrong.