If you found yourself wondering just how good the 2017 edition of Mountaineer basketball could be given the departures of Nathan Adrian, Elijah Macon and Tarik Phillip and absence of Esa Ahmad, you weren’t the only one.
Admittedly, we all shared some form of doubt that Huggins did in fact have a team capable of making another deep NCAA tournament run.
With Macon announcing he was leaving the program to play overseas and Esa Ahmad serving a suspension for the first half of the year, it put Huggins in a bind not only in depth, but in cohesiveness.
Daxter Miles Jr. missed a lot of practice in the pre-season due to an injury, which put a lot on Senior guard Jevon Carter.
“We really had one veteran guy back. Dax practiced less than half of the practices. With him not being there and it’s just [Jevon Carter], it really throws a lot on JC’s shoulders. We’re playing a bunch of young guys or guys that haven’t been here before,” said Huggins at his first press conference after the Texas A&M loss.
Since that loss, West Virginia has gone on to win eight straight games, including winning an early season tournament championship (Advocare Invitational) and a win over No. 15 Virginia on Tuesday night.
The Mountaineers have improved in each of their wins and Huggins has noticed it after every game, especially after the win over Virginia.
“We’re better. We practice three hours everyday and you’re supposed to get better. I don’t think anybody has given these guys the credit they ought to get because we are playing so many young guys” said Huggins. “Our sophomore class is a huge class and those guys haven’t played. Sags played a little bit last year. Chase hardly played. Beetle hasn’t played much. Lamont played a little more than those guys.”
Luckily, this team is putting the pieces together and the players are starting to discover their roles on the team.
“I definitely feel like we are finding are roles,” said Lamont West after the Virginia game. “We still got people that have to find out what they can and can’t do and I feel like once we get to that point, we’ll be real good.”
Players knowing where they are supposed to be offensively and defensively is what has given the Mountaineers their current winning streak.
On the defensive side of the ball, the press is becoming more affective, throwing in the trap in certain situations and in the half court defense, pushing the ball to the sidelines and away from the basket. Wesley Harris and Sagaba Konate have held their own in the frontcourt by staying in front of their man denying the entry pass.
Offensively, West Virginia is taking more quality shots and making good on those opportunities. Jevon Carter has shown more aggressiveness as a scorer while continuing to get his teammates involved.
The Mountaineers are starting to figure out where they are supposed to be on the floor in certain situations and Jevon Carter has noticed how far this team has come since that opening game.
“Very far,” Carter responded when asked about the development of the younger guys around him. “The guys on the team – a lot of them – it was really their first big game. You could tell guys was out there didn’t really know what to do and was looking at me and Dax a lot on what to do. And tonight it showed that those games we had after that, helped poise guys and got us ready for the moment.”
If this team can continue to improve, there will be no limit to where this team can finish.