MORGANTOWN, W.Va. Simply put, improvement. Nothing more, nothing less.
Yes, the Mountaineers, who were ranked 20th in ESPN’s ‘No-Longer-Way-Too-Early Top 25’, have obviously been having a fantastic showing in the Bahamas pre-season tournament this week in which they’ve won all three of their games against opponents sub-par to their usual.
The first game against IBA Elite ended in a 111-39 defeat, credited to Press Virginia’s 43 steals. Game two ended extremely similarly, 109-62 with 47 forced turnovers. Game three against the CGT Knights finished with a Mountaineer victory, 94-74.
Now, the real challenge is to detect where Bob Huggins squad has actually improved, not based solely off of a simple three-game overseas stretch on a tropical island.
The purpose of the pre-season trip to the Bahamas was to engage new players, mostly freshman powers Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and James Bolden, slowly into the Mountaineers system including offensive rotations and of course the one-of-a-kind press.
“They played hard and it was competitive for the majority of the game. I thought our freshmen really stepped up and played well. I thought our young guys gave us great minutes,” Huggins said in a press release following the Mountaineers third and final game.
West Virginia was allowed 10 practices prior to their departure for the Bahamas on August 9. During that span of practice is when Huggins believes his team got most of the benefit.
Jevon Carter may have proved himself as something more than just a ‘sixth man’ on Huggins squad this summer. While Huggins often reassured media members last season that he never even considered putting Carter into the starting lineup purposely, it’s evident that Carter’s off-season improvements have been beyond substantial.
While the Atlantis All-Stars brought basically no competitive action for the Mountaineers, Carter made scoring 25 points look too easy. He crushed 9 of 12 shots, 4 for 7 from three-point land, and showed an even more improved hot-handed shot from last season. As his sophomore season approaches, Carter may find himself slowly slipping into a leadership type role after being a driving force behind a Sweet 16 team as a freshman.
As for ‘the new guys’, Huggins credited Ahmad earlier last month with being an all-around athlete and basketball player capable of just about everything the common Big 12 big-man can do. Huggins also understands that the transition will take some time.
“It’s a transition, it’s a faster game, and it’s a more physical game and it’ll take him a while to adjust,” said Huggins.
In the Bahamas, Ahmad looked physical and perfectly conditioned, something you wouldn’t usually see this early on in the pre-season. Ahmad scored in double figures in all three games, but how comfortable he looked on the floor with the more experienced Mountaineers was the real eye-catching attribute.
Lastly, Jonathan Holton brought a new flare to the floor in all three games. Inconsistency often loomed over Holton last season, causing droughts of games with barely any numbers on his stat line.
Holton looks improved on his rebounding technique as well as passing accuracy, something Huggins’ often complained about last season. Holton led the team in game one with a double-double, but the real question is, can he produce consistent numbers in the long run?
So far, things are pointing in the right direction, but there’s little to see and even less to know about this West Virginia team so early on.
The Mountaineers Bahamas trip will draw to a close in a few short days. For now, Huggins says some team bonding will end an all-around great trip for his squad.
“This trip was great and I think it was a great experience for them,” said Huggins in a WVUsports.com press release. “We are going to go on a boat tomorrow and go snorkeling. The people have been wonderful here and treated us very well. This has been a good experience for our guys.”