Regrouping, Reconfiguration On Tap For WVU Hoops This Summer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Summer is upon us and that means West Virginia’s basketball team, trying to regroup after a trying season both on and off the court, returns to workouts and begins looking toward regaining its place among the Big 12’s elite teams.
They benefit this year by ridding themselves from a number of players who underachieved and caused administrative problems, leading to 21 losses, and by adding a solid recruiting class headed by five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe.
They also benefit from a trip to Spain which will allow them to play games against top-line opponents that should give the coaching staff an early look at how the newcomers are fitting in and what needs to be done to reshape the Mountaineers.
Summer is a time for improvement, so here is a look at what each player on the WVU team needs to work on:
Derek Culver, Sophomore Forward
The arrival of Tshiebwe should take some of the offensive pressure off Culver, if Huggins decides to play them together. However, when he is on the floor alone he will be facing a lot of attention.
Over this summer, it’s a necessity he learn to handle double teams and how to pass out of the post. He also could prove to be a much better scorer than he was last year when he missed a lot of close-in shots.
While he gives all he has, he has to prepare himself to run the floor harder on defense. There were a lot of times when he would get tired and while perhaps the fastest player on the floor, would not run like it.
If he can reach his potential and take advantage of the summer and the preseason — both of which he missed last year — he has the potential to turn in double-doubles almost every time he takes the floor.
Jermaine Haley, Senior Guard
Haley struggled early last season, seeming to settle into a supporting role rather than taking charge, which was what was expected of him.
The problem was lacking confidence early. He didn’t feel he should be taking charge with senior Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate out there, but as the team evolved and Konate disappeared to injury and Ahmad eventually was suspended, Haley found himself.
After scoring just 36 points in his first 14 games of the season, he averaged 16 points a game over the final 10 games, including games of 23, 24 and 28 points.
Haley does have to spend this summer working on his defense. He has learn to stay between the basket and the defender and cut off drives to the hoops. All season, WVU was killed by players being able to drive to the basket against most of the perimeter defenders.
Chase Harler, Senior Guard
Harler had an opportunity to play a big role in last year’s team but he wasn’t ready to take that step. A conscientious and serious competitor who should be one of the team’s leaders this season, he let too many opportunities pass him by last year.
Harler has to work on his confidence on offense and that means to get his perimeter shot to become a weapon. He’s out there to make threes and too often he either passed them up or seemed uncertain and didn’t hit them. He has work hard on getting open. Too often last year he would seem to get lost in the offense, leading to passing up shots he should have taken.
Brandon Knapper, Sophomore Guard
Coming off knee surgery that cost him his first year, Knapper had trouble settling in last season and at one point seemed to be overmatched. The South Charleston product has to spend his summer working on cutting back on turnovers, after committing 50 against 46 assists last year.
He has to shore up both his ball handling and passing over the summer. His biggest problems last season came against ball pressure where he wanted to speed up his game and rushed into turnovers. He is extremely fast and has a lot of ability — as he showed with 25 points against Oklahoma — but has to slow the game down so he doesn’t make so many bad decisions.
Emmitt Matthews Jr., Sophomore Forward
Like Haley, he became more confident and showed he has the ability to be a special player late in the season after an uncertain start. He has to work on his perimeter shot, hitting only 24.1% of 58 3-point shots in 2018-19. If he can draw defenders out on him it will greatly increase his offensive potential because he can get to the hoop. He has to work on his defense but he seems to have a desire to really ramp up on that side of the ball and has the ability to become an elite defender.
Matthews showed just what kind of potential he has against Texas Tech, an NCAA finalist, as he scored 28 points against the Red Raiders on 10 of 14 shooting with eight rebounds in the Big 12 Tournament.
Jordan McCabe, Sophomore Guard
McCabe’s game should take a large — and less painful — step forward this year as he has undergone meniscus surgery. He gutted it out, needing the surgery last year, and his game had to suffer from that injury. He’s a tough kid who spends more time than anyone in the gym, but last year he showed a lot of inconsistencies in his game.
He has to work on being consistent, making good decisions when he drives to the basket. While he is an excellent passer, he often himself caught up in traffic on the way to the rim and makes mistakes. A big part of the problem is that he makes the game too hard, rather than just taking the play that is there.
McCabe shot just 32.2% from the floor last year and that is insufficient to get the job done. However, he did show marked improvement in all areas of his game, especially defensively, down the stretch and that should carry over.
Logan Routt, Senior Center
If there is something he needs to improve upon, he will do it over the summer. No one has shown as much improvement in their game since coming in as a non-scholarship freshman than Routt and he will keep after it this year. Routt can help himself this summer by being more consistent with his shots in close to the basket.
It wouldn’t hurt if Routt would work on his free throw shooting intensely over the summer as he has hit just 50% of his collegiate tries.
Oscar Tshiebwe, Freshman Forward; Miles McBride, Freshman Guard; Sean McNeil, Sophomore Guard, and Ethan Richardson, Junior Forward
These are the newcomers joining the team as of now, and the summer is going to be a cram course for them, but it’s no different than what goes on every year when Huggins brings players into his program. It will be an adjustment for them in almost every way, from adapting to Huggins’ defense-first philosophy to Huggins himself, who can be tough on you while at the same time being your best friend.
As important as adapting to the coach and the system, with as much as has changed on this WVU team, there is going to have been team building done over the summer as the newcomers find their roles within the locker room.