By: Ryan Nelson
A lot of things went right for the West Virginia men’s basketball team last season. The Mountaineers won 26 games and finished 13-5 in the Big 12 – their best record since joining the conference.
But the one “big thing” that went wrong – a stunning loss to Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA tournament – may have defined the Mountaineers’ season as much as anything.
That said, there’s nothing like a new season to help put last year’s disappointments in the rearview. West Virginia opens the 2016-17 season Friday against Mount Saint Mary’s with the opportunity to pave a brand new trail.
What’s new for WVU?
Ah, those preseason questions. Of course, no one knows what’s really going to happen until the games start but this much is known about the Mountaineers as they prepare for a new season: 1) They must figure out a way to replace Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams, both key contributors a year ago.
Paige led WVU in scoring last season while Williams was second in scoring and averaged a team-leading 9.5 rebounds per game. 2) The Mountaineers led the nation in bench scoring last season – a key factor in their success – and getting similar production this season will be important.
Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip, and Daxter Miles Jr. are key returning players for WVU and are expected to carry a heavy load. Carter led the Mountaineers in assists, steals, and 3-pointers in 2015-16, while Phillip averaged 9.3 points as part of WVU’s productive bench crew, and Miles started 30 games and averaged nearly 10 points per game. Senior Teyvon Myers, who averaged 2.4 points last season, is expected to play a bigger role this season while redshirt freshman James Bolden led the Mountaineers in scoring during their summer Bahamas trip. Additionally, more is expected from sophomore forward Esa Ahmad, the Mountaineers’ top recruit in 2015.
Veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins had another strong recruiting class and a handful of freshmen are expected to contribute this season. Maciej Bender, a 6-10 forward who can score from the perimeter, is expected to lead the newcomers, while Sagaba Konate, a rugged forward, will contribute both offensively and defensively. Guard Chase Harber, a West Virginia native, will lend a hand in the backcourt during his first season of college ball.
The bottom line
The Mountaineers were picked to finish second in the Big 12 in the preseason poll and another good season should be in store. At the least, they’ll put some distance between themselves and a forgettable 2015-16 finish.