WVU Basketball: Early Thoughts
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Admittedly, it’s just a scrimmage, designed more for the entertainment of fans and the building of excitement than anything. Still, there were some observations to be made, and very preliminary conclusions to be drawn, from the up-and-down debut of the West Virginia men’s basketball team on Friday evening at the WVU Coliseum.
Mobile and Agile: West Virginia’s quartet of big men show a number of different skills. Returnees Sagaba Konate and Logan Routt have made some additions to their games on offense, with Konate making a three and appearing to have extended his comfortable jump-shooting range out to the line. Routt, who is continually overlooked, put a pair of nice jump hooks and a duck-in on his way to ten points. He’s not going to do that every game, but opponents are going to have to account for him.
Derek Culver showed more ability away from the hoop than some might have suspected. Jumpers from 12-15 feet are going to be well within his range. Drew Gordon, while perhaps not ranging quite as far, had a great move across the lane where he picked up the ball, strode to his right and threw down a tomahawk dunk. Both are physical and can help with rim protection, and their battles in practice should help the entire group improve as the season goes on.
The biggest takeaway here is that the Mountaineers have four players with different strengths who can fill a variety of roles inside. It could potentially be the most versatile and deep lineup at the position in the Bob Huggins era.
Wing Shooters: Huggins said that WVU has been shooting the ball acceptably during the preseason, and a good bit of that has to be based on the wings, including Lamont West, Wes Harris and Esa Ahmad. West, coming off wrist surgery, showed a very smooth shooting stroke, with a great release. Harris, whose jumper is punctuated by a somewhat strange-looking spread-leg kick, was also on the mark. Teams that leave him alone will pay the price. Ahmad didn’t take any threes, but took the ball strongly to the rim, using his lengthy wingspan to create space for an array of shots. He’s shown in past seasons that his range also extends to the 3-point line.
This trio gives the Mountaineers a great foundation for scoring from the perimeter, and if just one or two guards follow suit, West Virginia figures to improve its performance from that range over last year.
Press Virginia: It’s all guesswork at this point, although Huggins assured the crowd in question that it’s alive and well. WVU can certainly deploy waves of players at opponents, as they are far more athletic and lengthy from top to bottom than in previous years. But just how will it play out? There were only a few traps set in this very basic scrimmage, thus no hints as to how the press might change with a lineup featuring seven new players.
Tryout For The Rotation: With fifteen players on the roster, there could be a trench beaten from the bench to the scorer’s table in the first part of the season. Huggins and his coaching staff will have the task of figuring out how players fit best, who plays where, and who can be trusted to execute the offensive and defensive systems. That can be difficult enough with ten or 11 candidates. Come Big 12 time, the numbers in the rotation will decrease, but in November and December the combinations figure to be many.
Battle At The Point: Brandon Knapper and Jordan McCabe had balancing positives and negatives as they squared off in running their respective teams. Their shooting numbers were almost identical, with each going 2-of-9 from the field and combining for just one 3-pointer in nine tries.
Knapper was more steady running the point, with three assists against just one turnover, while McCabe’s ratio was 4:5. Shooting will be a part of this fight, but the player that knows the offense better, gets it to the right spot at the right time, and doesn’t turn it over, will be the one who earns the bulk of the playing time.
This competition is much too early to call, but with Beetle Bolden’s continuing wrist woes, it looks like these two have the leg up. Another option is Jermaine Haley, who does handle the ball well in the open court. He had five assists and got the transition game underway well on several occasions. Will he be a viable alternative?
Bolden, who has battled numerous nagging injuries after missing his entire freshman season with a knee injury, also remains a point of concern. Without question, he’s a sniper who can break open zones and force defenses away from the hoop. His continuing fight with ligament strains in the biggest health concern for WVU as it continues its march toward its regular season opener on Nov. 9.