WVU Big Men Must Come Up … Well … Big
If West Virginia’s men’s basketball team has an Achilles heel, it is probably in the middle, which is to be expected because of the unexpected.
And no, this is not a knock on big man Sagaba Konate, who is a superstar waiting to happen.
He rebounds, he blocks shots, he can score and, for a big man, he is a surprisingly deft free throw shooter with a soft touch.
The only problem is that the rules only give him five fouls. That sometimes isn’t enough and WVU is not the same team when he isn’t in there.
As a sophomore who was dominant everywhere else he has played, he never had to worry much about fouling due to his athleticism, but in the Big 12 you come finally get to pick on someone your own size … every game.
The way Bob Huggins had laid this out, this wasn’t going to be a problem, for he had Elijah Macon, an improving rising senior coming back to split time and 10 fouls with Konate.
It would have made a world of difference with this team, something that was seen right out of the gate when Macon was off playing professionally in some foreign land while Texas A&M used its size to beat WVU.
That is the only defeat the Mountaineers have tasted, but again they will be tested inside in Big 12 play.
Which brings us to the moment.
Konate is a fine player, but behind him there is size but neither experience nor a proven ability to score or rebound in Maciej Bender, the 6-11 Polish import, and in-state product Logan Routt, also at 6-11 and probably even 7-foot, awarded a scholarship just this year, that scholarship having once belonged to Macon.
Bender has had his ups and downs coming off the bench.
Huggins continues to build on Bender’s confidence. Just before WVU’s exhibition victory over Wheeling Jesuit he was asked about Bender’s progress and his answer was glowing.
“I think he’s been great coming off the bench,” Huggins said. “He’s played European basketball, where so much is predicated on the perimeter shot and they don’t have a post guy. This is a new thing for him.
“He has great size, is a great kid and working at it every day.”
The problem was he didn’t show much progress against Wheeling Jesuit, having the ball stripped from his grasp as he brings it down. In 12 minutes he had 3 points, two rebounds and two turnovers.
Routt, who sits No. 3 at the spot but keeps accomplishing something when given the chance, got 19 minutes and made the most of it, hitting 3 of 4 shots, scoring 7 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking two shots and being credited with three steals.
For whatever reason, he seems to respond when Huggins pushes him a little, as he did in this game, yanking him aside for a chat after taking him from the game.
“He tells you what you did wrong and how to fix it,” Routt said, taking it as it is meant to be, constructive criticism.
Asked about the way he was working with Routt during the game, Huggins put it this way:
“He gets it all the time. He’s usually a better free-throw shooter than that (1 of 6). He’s also usually better than he was around the rim the first time he was in the game.
“He needs to remember you have to play hard on defense and play fast on defense and slow down on offense. That was Logan’s problem. He doesn’t get the reps, obviously, that Konate gets or what Maciej gets. We’re trying to make sure he understands what his responsibilities are.”
That is going to be important because in league play someone is going to have rise up at that position, even if Esa Ahmad is back on the court.