WVU’s Matthews Shows Aptitude For Learning
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After playing just four total minutes in West Virginia’s first three games, freshman Emmitt Matthews looked like he had a long road to travel to see appreciable time on the floor. The 6-7 swingman, like many newcomers to the college game, was hit with a ton of new challenges right off the bat when he came to WVU. Those typically combine to put players in uncomfortable positions as they learn to adapt to the speed and length of their opponents, as well as to the pace of the game.
Matthews, though, might be on a path that provides a much quicker ETA to the goal of valued contributor. He saw 12 minutes of action against St. Joseph’s, then trumped that with 21 in WVU’s 88-76 win over Valparaiso. In the contest against the Crusaders, he scored five points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a shot while suffering only one turnover. He showed the beginnings of a more aggressive offensive game, and although he was just 1-5 from the floor, he drew two fouls to get to the line and moved the ball when a shot didn’t present itself.
“It helped me a lot, running with the older guys,” Matthews said of his action on the court, where he settled in fairly quickly. “We have two teams in practice, and getting to run with the big guys today helped me a lot with chemistry. Playing with Sags — I’ve never played with a big guy like that before. Getting used to playing with them helped me the most.”
Matthews admits the move from Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., to West Virginia has presented its obstacles.
“Coming here and getting used to having to guard from the two to the four, guarding the smaller guys, it’s not easy to do, and then having to switch on to a 6-11 guy,” he said, echoing the comments of many who have come before him and found the demands of Bob Huggins’ defensive system tough to master. West Virginia has been working with some different zone looks, including a 2-3, to complement its base defense, which will further steepen the learning curve.
“We put those in this week to try to open up our options on the defensive end,” said the well-spoken Matthews. “There are going to be teams that we can play multiple defenses against. We don’t always have to play man-to-man. We can drop into a 2-3 or the point drop.”
Huggins isn’t sold yet on what the Mountaineers will be able to do defensively, but he does have good things to say about Matthews’ progress in the early part of the season. Often times, youngsters with stellar backgrounds come in and think they have things all figured out, while others get overwhelmed and shut down. Matthews has done neither.
“He’s just getting better and better,” Huggins said. It’s hard to get better if you aren’t coachable, and he’s really coachable. He’s terrific.”
Adding to that, Huggins sent a message.
“It wouldn’t shock me if he didn’t bypass some of the other guys that aren’t as coachable.”
Assessing Matthews at this point shouldn’t be based on the numbers, although his one turnover in 37 minutes of action is one nice stat that stands out. Instead, it’s his progress in meshing with the players getting the bulk of the minutes, and his ability to continue to improve on the items that have caught Huggins’ eye, that are the things to watch. His trajectory, like those of many freshman, will likely contain some peaks and valleys, but if he can stay on his current arc, he could be one of the major members of the rotation by the time the fight for conference standing and postseason play is at its peak.