Juwan Staten, Monté Morris

West Virginia will need to follow Juwan Staten’s lead

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After missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, the West Virginia program endured a tumultuous spring where Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, the Mountaineers’ second and third leading scorers, both decided to transfer.

Despite the losses of two talented guards, especially Eron Harris, who was fourth in the Big 12 in scoring, the Mountaineers return their top player from a season ago: Juwan Staten. His return is crucial for Mountaineers, who enter the 2014-2015 season with a new cast of characters.

From the Mike Casazza Charleston Daily Mail:

For now, Staten can lead by example, and Huggins bragged that Staten “certainly sets an example with his work ethic.” Staten’s timeline on Twitter features regular reminders that he’s been running in the woods or working out in the gym, messages that are important because the work does happen and because his peers can see that he’s out there doing his part.

“He lives in the gym,” Huggins said. “He doesn’t just go in the gym and shoot balls. He’s in there working at it. That, I think, has kind of permeated to a degree throughout our team.”

Staten was second in the Big 12 in scoring and was tied for the lead in assists with 18.1 points and 5.8 assists per game. He was also second on the team in rebounding. The 6-foot-1 guard will be surrounded by a mostly new-look back court made up of returnee Gary Browne, JuCo commits Billydee Williams, Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige, as well as incoming freshmen Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, both three-star recruits.

The West Virginia frontline, headlined by Devin Williams, will be bolstered by the additions of Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, a top-60 recruit in 2013. Both forwards will be eligible this season.

Last season, the Mountaineers finished seventh in the Big 12 standings, ahead of Oklahoma State, which received one of the conference’s seven tournament berths. For a time, West Virginia was sitting on the bubble, making up for a weak non-conference schedule with wins over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. But six losses in nine games down the stretch dashed the Mountaineers’ hopes of dancing in March.

Harris and Henderson transferring hurts West Virginia, but a first-team Big 12 selection surrounded by talent, albeit young and/or inexperienced, gives Huggins something to work with.

“I think they’ll get better and better as the thing goes on,” Huggins told Casazza. “I think we have to have the same kind of selfless attitude that I think the really good teams have. I don’t have any indication at this point in time that that’s not going to happen.”

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.