MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–After a disappointing loss to Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the West Virginia University basketball team is ready to get back on the court and back in the saddle.
Despite the ending, the Mountaineers had one of their best regular seasons. Their 26 wins were the most since the 2010 Final Four team. The 13-5 Big 12 record was the best since joining the conference.
WVU led the nation in bench scoring last season and finished the season ranked eighth in the Associated Press poll.
The Mountaineers are picked to finish second in the Big 12 Preseason Poll with several returning faces and a group of newcomers, who are expected to make an immediate impact.
However, WVU will be without the assistance of three of last season’s key players. Devin Williams left early to pursue a professional career and both Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton graduated.
Paige led the Mountaineers in scoring, averaging 13.7 points per game. Williams was second on the team with 13.3 points. He was also a presence on the boards, leading the Big 12 with 9.5 rebounds per game.
Holton is another rebounder WVU will miss. He was a strong offensive rebounder and a key component in the Mountaineers’ pressure defense.
Head coach Bob Huggins had a strong recruiting class and expectations are still high for “Press Virginia”.
Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Daxter Miles Jr. will likely be the workhorses of the Mountaineers’ offense. Carter led WVU in 3-points, assists and steals. The junior averaged 9.5 points and 3.26 assists per game last season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Carter is a skilled defensive player and a clutch piece in the Mountaineers’ press. It was his defensive play that helped WVU hold Buddy Hield to just six points in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal. Like Paige, Phillip primarily came off the bench and flourished last season. He averaged 9.3 points and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc. The senior was second on the team in assists and steals. Miles started 30 of the 32 games he played last year. He averaged 9.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. The Mountaineers hope that senior Teyvon Myers will play a bigger role in the offense. He was a star at Allen Hancock College and Williston State College but only added 2.4 points last season. James “Beetle” Bolden has recovered from an ACL repair and is ready to chip in and help. The 6-foot, 160-pound redshirt freshman averaged 11 points per game during the Bahamas tour last summer. He led the Gold team with 12 points during the Gold-Blue Debut earlier this month. Moundsville native Chase Harler will look to fit into WVU’s backcourt equation. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard averaged 24.4 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. He was the WV Gatorade Player of the Year last season.
Morgantown native, Nathan Adrian, is developing into a leader and a key player for the Mountaineers. He started 16 games last season and played 18.1 minutes per contest. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds last year. He shot 40.7 percent of all shots from 3-point land. Huggins is expecting big things from Adrian this season. WVU will also expect Elijah Macon to step up his game. He averaged 4.5 points per game last year and 3.0 rebounds. Macon needs to become a bigger force on the glass without Holton and Williams in the frontcourt. Esa Ahmad started 34 games last season and averaged 4.9 points. He has a lot of talent but had an up and down freshman campaign. WVU will turn to him to have a bigger role this season. After missing the begining of the season last year, Brandon Watkins should be ready to go this year. In 23 games, he scored 14 points and grabbed 24 rebounds. Lamont West is another newcomer the Mountaineers will depend on. The 6-foot-8 forward redshirted last season. He averaged 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a high school senior. Sagaba Konate has been impressive this fall. The 6-foot-8 freshmen led Kennedy Catholic to its first Pennsylvania state championship in 15 years in last season. As a high school senior, Konate averaged 15.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Freshman Maciej Bender was a four star recruit that Huggins nabbed last season. The 6-foot-10 forward is looking for playing time. He averaged 8.3 points and 7.7 rebounds during the U20 European Championships over the summer.
The loss of Williams and Holton hurt on the boards but if players develop into their roles the Mountaineers will be just fine. Last season WVU shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and hopefully the addition of Harler will boost that number. With the seven returning players and the newcomers, the Mountaineers should have its third straight 20-win season and make a deep run during March.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS