During West Virginia’s comeback win over Missouri Sunday evening in the Advocare Invitational Championship Game, ESPN color commentator Fran Fraschilla made the comment that Bob Huggin’s squad was still in the process of determining and exploiting its identity.
And after Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter accounted for 55 of West Virginia’s 83 points, it’s becoming obvious that if the Mountaineers are to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament, it will be largely due to the play of its backcourt. In many ways, college basketball is a small man’s league. Newly established “freedom of movement” rules and a shorter shot clock was installed to highlight and reward offensive play, especially slashing guards.
Yet despite elite guard play, West Virginia has shown how desperate it is for one additional piece to the puzzle. Now – and especially amidst the absence of forward Esa Ahmad – the Mountaineers are striving to develop depth amongst its “big men”.
In his young career, Sagaba Konate has proven to be a more than capable rim protector and even scorer in the paint. Even more impressive, Sags has added a jump shot that can extend all the way to the top of the key to his arsenal. But like many young, aggressive and defensive-minded forwards, Konate is susceptible to foul trouble like he was against Missouri. After tallying two quick fouls in the opening 4 minutes of the game, Huggins was forced to sit Konate and replace him with Maciej Bender.
In this situation lies the problem. Bender is nowhere comparable to Konate in nearly all facets. He isn’t wasted minutes, however. Bender excels as a passer but lacks as a defender and as a post scorer. Next down the line is Logan Routt. The West Virginia native has surprised many with his defensive play and rebounding. He is young, relatively inexperienced, but is proving to be a better option in the post than Bender.
Once Esa Ahmad returns, the need for a defensive big man won’t diminish but should lessen. If anything, Ahmad will provide another scoring option for the Mountaineers, but the development of depth in the frontcourt is still a must.