Fixing something broken usually involves a toolbox.
A hammer – maybe even a wrench – is a must.
For West Virginia head basketball coach Bob Huggins, sometimes fixing what is broken requires an axe.
In conjunction with the university, Huggins put that axe to work yesterday evening, dismissing senior Esa Ahmad and junior Wesley Harris due to a violation of athletics department policies.
During what has been a defeated season for the Mountaineers, Huggins’ decision to move forward without Harris and Ahmad leaves West Virginia with only nine healthy scholarship players on the roster and the realization that the Mountaineers’ rebuild is starting sooner rather than later.
Esa Ahmad, who came to Morgantown as one of ESPN’S top-50 recruits in the 2014 class, never reached his full potential. After three seasons and 23 games this year, the senior only averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. And although Harris was never forced to shoulder the same expectations Ahmad handled, he, too, underwhelmed during his time in Morgantown. The junior finished his career with 6.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest.
Losing two starters on top of being without Sagaba Konate and Beetle Bolden due to injuries may spell doom for the Mountaineers’ immediate future. But it also can lead to much-needed growth for the seven underclassmen on the roster.
Most importantly, the players remaining in Huggins’ good will, are now afforded extra opportunities to earn their keep.
True freshman and former four-star recruit Emmitt Matthews Jr., who has averaged just over 10 minutes per game as a rotational piece behind Harris and Ahmad, will see an increase in playing time and responsibility. The same can be said for junior Lamont West. West, however, is best utilized behind the three-point arc, meaning Matthews, freshman Derek Culver Jr. and sophomore Andrew Gordon will be asked to rebound the ball at a high rate.
Consequently, addition by subtraction also means junior Logan Routt may see more time at center than ever before. Of the eleven players available on the roster, seven of them are guards. Moving Routt and Gordon to center on a full-time basis will allow Culver and/or Matthews Jr. to occupy the forward spots and give the Mountaineers more size on the court.
Currently, the Mountaineers rank seventh in the country in offensive rebounds per game (14.3) and 28th in total rebounds per game (39.43). The combination of Harris and Ahmad accounted for a third of the offensive rebounds and a fourth of the total rebounds. The good news, though, is that Derek Culver alone has reeled in nearly nine boards per game, including 3.2 offensive rebounds per contest and a streak of at least 11 rebounds over the last three games. More over, the true freshman’s 11.7 points per game ranks second on the team and has been the Mountaineers’ best offensive threat in Bolden’s absence.
Statistically, Ahmad and Harris will be missed. Their departures, however, have been deemed warranted – and maybe even necessary – in order for Huggins to finally hit the reset button.