Examining this year’s Mountaineer men’s basketball team’s non-conference slate with two games remaining before Big 12 play gets underway on New Year’s Day is a mystery in itself. West Virginia just received 24 votes in the AP Top 25 Poll and is a confident team currently on a six-game winning streak.
The team has jumped out to a respectable 9-1 mark with a big victory over No. 15 Uconn last Wednesday night. The Mountaineers most recent victory came against Kent State on Sunday in the WVU Coliseum, 63-50.
The question this year isn’t whether Bob Huggins team can shoot the ball well and score points but more about if the team can gel as a whole and make physical defensive plays down low and in the post. After fifth year senior guard Taz Sherman was named the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Player of the Week he is the leading scorer for the Mountaineers averaging 21.8 points per game through 10 matchups so far.
“He has made so many strides he reminds me a lot of Steve Logan. He’s bigger and he’s more athletic than Logan was but just a great knack of getting himself freed to get a jump shot. He’s got to be one of the better players in our league if not the top two or three,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.
The only other scorer averaging double figures every matchup would be senior guard Sean McNeil with 13.2 points per matchup. The shooting is the specialty of this team shooting a .450 percentage from the floor and .314 percent from three pointer largely credited to Sherman and McNeil.
It’s also fair to say that the Mountaineers have taken the ball away on defense both in the back and front courts and earned 18.6 turnovers per game. That’s a lot better than the Mountaineer turnover rate of 11.9 turnovers per matchup with Sherman and McNeil dribbling the ball up the court.
“I think we’ve got enough length we can do it, our problem is going to be rebounding the ball,” said Huggins. “We’ve played a little bit of zone, we haven’t a lot. We’ve pressed a little bit, not a lot, we have I think historically played a bunch of stuff just to make people spend time guarding it, now obviously their going to guard
One of the biggest struggles of this year’s team has been the free throw shooting with a .603 charity stripe percentage while opponents are shooting .627 from the free throw line. The only two Mountaineers who aren’t shooting at or below 50 percent are Sherman and McNeil which says a lot about West Virginia’s current offensive state.
The Mountaineers also sit below their opponents in the rebounding department averaging 33.2 rebounds per contest as opposed to other team’s 34.2 rebounds per game.
That could be for the lack of front court aggressiveness toward the basket but senior forward Isaiah Cottrell and sophomore forward Jalen Bridges average 4.5 and 7.4 points in the paint, respectively. Fifth year forwards Pauly Paulicap and Dimon Carrigan have also been utilized in the front court attack through 10 games this season.
“I think we’re getting better, I think when we started the season we had no one who could score with their back to the basket, Pauly has worked really hard and Pauly is very capable now of scoring with his back to the basket. He actually scored with his back to the basket against Connecticut and their bigs so we have somebody now. We’ve got guys with size,” explained Huggins.
Given Huggins track record it gives hope that there can be a Mountaineer front court that rebounds well and forces turnovers which can partially be credited to the front court play of the forwards. If nothing else this could be another well led defensive unit that will turn the ball over first and foremost and create an opportunity on the offensive end.
The Mountaineers will now face off with UAB on Saturday, December 18 at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama at 5 p.m. with televising on CBS Sports Network.
Photo by Wesley Shoemaker, Blue Gold Sports