Juwan Staten is the heart and soul of the Mountaineers, and it was apparent in Saturday’s loss to Baylor that West Virginia missed both Staten and Gary Browne.
Staten injured his left knee in West Virginia’s 71-64 win against Texas last Tuesday and the injury kept the senior guard out of practice last week. He traveled with the team to Waco, Texas but did not play. Browne suffered a high ankle sprain in the opening minutes against Baylor.
Both Browne and Staten are listed as day-to-day, but there is no guarantee either will play in Tuesday’s game against Kansas or on Senior Night against Oklahoma State on Saturday.
“Everything I’m being told is day-to-day and I saw both of them earlier (this morning) and I doubt they practice today,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “Tomorrow is another day though.”
There is no question regarding what Staten brings to the table. He is a leader, a motivator, and one of the toughest guys on the court. The 6-foot-1 guard is one of the most talented athletes to don the old gold and blue.
West Virginia proved earlier in the season that they can win without their leader, but they had Browne leading the way. If the Mountaineers are to succeed in the postseason, they need both senior guards.
Without Staten and Browne, how effectively the press can be run is also a serious question.
“It hurts our depth,” Huggins said. “I didn’t think our pressure was near as good in Waco (against Baylor). They did a great job against it, and we pressed them the whole second half and didn’t take out (his two starting guards) at all.”
West Virginia prides itself on its defense. The Mountaineers led the nation in turnovers forced with more than 20 a game. On Saturday, they forced only eight against Baylor, the fewest by an opponent all season.
It was even more noticeable that West Virginia missed Staten and Browne on offense. Staten knows where and when his teammates are supposed to be open. He has run the offense for the past three years.
If Browne were healthy, he would have been next in line to effectively lead the offense. Unfortunately, with guards playing in new positions things didn’t run so smoothly for the Mountaineers.
Some have questioned whether or not Huggins should automatically rest his seniors in preparation for the postseason, but this does not seem like an available option if they are healthy enough to go.
“You prepare all year to play during the season,” he said. Why you wouldn’t play guys, why guys wouldn’t want to play doesn’t make any sense to me.”
A high ankle sprain is a significant injury, and it is hard to say if Browne will return before the Big 12 tournament next week. Staten’s health could also be a huge question mark. In the meantime, the Mountaineers have to prepare its freshmen for battle without the veteran leaders.