WVU Gold – Blue Debut: What To Watch
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s basically an open scrimmage. It can sometimes devolve to levels of play that would have head coach Bob Huggins directing multiple players to the speeding treadmills at one end of the basketball practice facility. It’s also the first chance to see West Virginia’s 2018-19 men’s basketball team in something resembling game conditions. That’s the story for West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Debut, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. on Friday evening at the WVU Coliseum.
Keep in mind this is a split-squad function, as much show and marketing as real play. However, there are some items to watch, and players to observe as they hit the court in front of fans for the first time this season. Consider this a starting checklist as WVU hits the floor.
THE PRESS: How much we’ll see the press in these 40 minutes is a question, and its frequency probably won’t be an indicator of what happens once the regular season begins. But when it is displayed, there are nuggets to be gleaned. Last year’s press was built around Jevon Carter. This year’s if it is to be successful, will probably be more focused on West Virginia’s length. With nine players standing 6-7 or taller, cutting down passing lanes and trapping will be keys to creating the sort of havoc that has marked the Mountaineer program in recent years. It also helps in the back end, where WVU can deploy more players capable of blocking shots than just Sagaba Konate.
Watch for different versions of the press, and just as importantly, who deploys where. Straight man? 2-2-1 zone? Are double teams deployed? How do the Mountaineers defend the passing lanes? Again, this will just be a first taste of what will certainly evolve over the season, but it will be interesting to see how this team shows pressure.
THE POST: From an overview perspective, West Virginia’s frontcourt is loaded. But will that translate to inside scoring, which will likely be needed as the backcourt finds its footing and looks for perimeter shooters? Konate showed the makings of some good drop steps and up and under moves last year — if his progression there continues, he will be tough to defend. Logan Routt was a stickback guy on the offensive boards a year ago. Derek Culver has added a good bit of size and strength in his year of prep school, while Andrew Gordon sat out last year with a knee injury. Defense shouldn’t be a problem for either, but if one player can support Konate and be at least a threat with his back to the basket in the low post, the Mountaineers will become more difficult to defend.
Watch to see how these players deploy in the offense. Will WVU show some high-low post sets to take advantage of a deeper roster? There’s flexibility here too — Esa Ahmad can undoubtedly post up when on a smaller defender, and Konate can step out to 15-17 feet. Where do the other bigs fit?
SHOOTING: The search is on for players that can make jumpers and provide 3-point threats. A fully-healthy Lamont West should be a boost, and Jordan McCabe has dazzled with his accuracy from distance. Will that continue against more intense defense? Returnees Brandon Knapper and Beetle Bolden have both shown the ability to make shots — consistency is their goal at this point. The same holds true for Esa Ahmad. If three of those five come through, or one more is found from the remaining guards and wing forwards, this won’t be an issue.
One scrimmage game’s performance won’t tell the season’s tale. But keep an eye on how these players get their shots away. Are they comfortable? Does their form look good? Are they having to strain to elevate to find room to get the shot away? Neither one hot night nor an off-shooting performance will mean a player can or can’t help this year, but these are some of the things to watch for on the offensive end.
THE POINT: Perhaps the biggest question facing WVU this year is in running the offense, but it stems as much from health as anything. Both Bolden and Knapper have had injury-plagued careers so far, and the Mountaineers need both healthy not only for games, but also for practices so that continuity can be developed over the weeks of the season.
That’s just step one — they will also then have to show the ability to handle the ball against pressure, to get the offense set when it breaks down or misalignments occur, and to create late in the shot clock. Bolden has some experience at the Division I level, but Knapper none in real games. A wild card is Jermaine Haley, who provides height at 6-7 and a different look for a WVU point guard.
Watch each of these players for a few trips if they run at the point, and not just with the ball. Is their direction of the team good? Do they go back and get the ball when it gets stuck? Do they keep it moving, either via pass or a dribble with a purpose? Do they make good decisions in transition — an area that plagued the Mountaineers in recent seasons?
This is a huge task, and likely the most critical one facing this year’s Mountaineer team.
VERSATILITY: Along with Haley, who could see time at point or as a wing forward, WVU has a great deal of potential versatility. They could go with a big lineup featuring Konate and Routt or Culver inside. They could deploy a swingman heavy lineup with West, Harris, Ahmad or Emmitt Matthews filling three spots. With Haley on the floor, three guards aren’t out of the question either.
There’s going to be a great deal of mixing and matching to see not only how players fit at different positions, but what sorts of lineup combinations overall work for WVU. Again, this is a process that will play out a good deal, especially during the non-conference portion of the season. Keep an eye on the combinations of players on the floor, and their effectiveness when moving to different locations.