West Virginia Mountaineers

Getty Images

No. 21 West Virginia gets back to basics in win over Baylor

1 Comment

West Virginia was not happy about the way things ended in Lawrence, so they took it out on the hottest team in the Big 12.

On Saturday, No. 21 West Virginia blew a double-digit, second-half lead in a loss to Kansas for the second time this season. Given the nature of Saturday’s loss, not only with regards to the blown lead but also the frustration that comes with attempting just two free throws, the question for the Mountaineers going into Tuesday’s game at Baylor was how would they respond.

As was the case with its 35-point beating of Texas in the first game after their home loss to Kansas, West Virginia offered up a positive response in Waco. Esa Ahmad and Jevon Carter led a balanced offensive effort and Sagaba Konate was dominant around the basket as the Mountaineers picked up the 71-60 victory.

West Virginia built its advantage in the first half, finding quality looks offensively (and making them at a solid clip) while limiting Baylor on the other end of the floor. But Baylor was able to mount a rally in the second half, with West Virginia’s offense being stagnant at times with passing on the perimeter ultimately yielding to a hopeful hoist in the final seconds of the shot clock.

That’s been an issue for the Mountaineers on multiple occasions this season, in wins and losses alike, with Carter being the team’s best option to make a play either for himself or his teammates. Even with Tuesday’s win, West Virginia showed that it still has work to to in this area as the season’s most important month draws closer.

The second half offensive issues aside, the conversation should be about what Sagaba Konate gives West Virginia in the post. Konate finished with ten points, ten rebounds and nine blocked shots, tying the single-game school record set by D’Or Fisher in 2004.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore entered Tuesday’s game ranked fifth in the country in blocks per game (3.15), and his block percentage of 16.2 ranks third nationally. While the perimeter players, most notably Carter, receive attention for their roles in “Press Virginia”, a big reason why they’re able to be so aggressive is the presence of Konate on the back line. Players big and small alike have looked to challenge Konate at the rim, and more often than not those attempts fail to the his combination of timing and sheer strength.

Baylor was able to pull closer in the second half due to West Virginia’s at times sluggish offense and its work on the offensive boards. For the game Baylor rebounded 38.6 percent of its missed shots, outscoring the Mountaineers 15-7 in second-chance points. But they shot just 32.8 percent from the field and 3-for-9 from three, with West Virginia putting forth one of its better efforts with regards to half-court defense in addition to forcing 14 Baylor turnovers.

Ultimately, while West Virginia’s bounce-back performance was a good one the result wasn’t so much about learning something new about the Mountaineers so much as them getting back to who they are. The offense was balanced if not spectacular, and defensively one of the nation’s best rim protectors produced a virtuoso performance.

That’s been the formula West Virginia’s called upon when successful, and they’ll have to continue to do that if they’re to make a run in March.

Young goes for 32, but No. 19 West Virginia tops No. 17 Oklahoma

Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images
5 Comments

There are typical rhythms and currents to a basketball game that are present just about anytime 10 people share a court. There’s the natural movements and interplay that makes it easy to identify cause and effect, even before anything even happens.

Then there are games with Trae Young, whose creativity, ESP-level feel for the game and boundless shooting range wholly turns a game on its head. It makes for breathtaking basketball because those conventions that are so well-worn into your psyche simply don’t apply to Young. He operates outside the standard rules of the game.

It makes for breathtaking basketball, but it also has its limitations.

Oklahoma appears to be butting up to those borders.

Nineteenth-ranked West Virginia topped the No. 17 Sooners, 75-73, on Monday night with Young putting up 32 points but with just one assist and six turnovers.

Young is undoubtedly awesome, but the Sooners are swooning, losers of three of their last four and five of their last seven. Their freshman phenom has taken heat in recent weeks for his shot selection – and volume – but there’s more at play than just that, not to mention he’s tempered his 3-point shooting quite a bit. His teammates shot just 41.7 percent overall and were 2 of 6 from 3-point range. Hard to rack up assists when your teammates don’t make a ton of shots.

The bigger issue, though, is the charge that the rest of the Sooners do too much watching of Young. That’s often a criticism of teams and players when one guy does so much – Young’s 40 percent usage rate is the highest in the country and his 35.5 percent shooting rate is seventh – but it’s particularly interesting to consider with the Sooners.

Usually that critique comes as commentary on how players tune out and become disengaged when they know the ball is going up and not coming to them. There’s standing because there’s no ball movement, and there’s no ball movement because, for lack of a better term, there’s a ball hog on the floor. Think of those particularly grinding Allen Iverson 76ers teams.

I’m not convinced that’s the case with Oklahoma.

First off, there’s the easy data point that Young leads the country in assists with more than nine helpers per game. He’s finding teammates in positions to score and situations to be successful. The trick of it is there still is standing around. It’s almost like Young’s teammates are like us – they get caught watching Young because the don’t know what he’s going to do next. When you’ve got a guy that – in a single game – made a 35-footer like it was nothing, made a layup in which the ball bounced off the top of the backboard and then through the rim and had a number of passes only he could see the lane for, it’s easy to see why.

Young is unpredictable because he’s playing the game on another wavelength, one that really only he can see. Sometimes it can be hard to run coherent offense when your teammates struggle to predict what’s coming next, no matter how dazzling that next move may be.

West Virginia also deserves a ton of praise for their work against Young. Sure, he went for 32, but by limiting his assist total, the Mountaineers contained his offensive contributions to just his scoring. That’s a major win when you’re facing a player that can totally tilt a defense with his all-consuming gravity. Young got his, but West Virginia blunted his impact by making him solely a scorer and not the hub that Oklahoma’s whole offense can spin around.

West Virginia has dealt with Young as well as anyone, handing him two losses in their two meetings while forcing him to commit a total of 14 turnovers. The concerns facing the Mountaineers after three-straight losses to end January seem to have blown over with their 38-point beatdown of Kansas State over the weekend and now a win in Norman. Jevon Carter went for 10 points, eight assists and six steals while Sagaba Konate continues to be a dominating presence inside, blocking two shots and altering plenty more.

West Virginia seems just fine.

The Sooners are probably fine too, but they’re learning how being so utterly dependent on one transcendent player can put a ceiling on success, but maybe just in the regular season. Big 12 defenses get two cracks at solving Young, and they usually have multiple days to put together a game plan. In the 18-game grinder that is the Big 12 round-robin, some clunkers – and it’s absolutely bonkers to call a 32-point performance a clunker – are inevitable.

In the NCAA tournament, though, handing the whole workload over to Young is a high-upside proposition. Playing Young is something that you can’t truly prepare for until he’s canned a 35-footer right in your face. Plus, while Young is going to have off nights over 18 games and two months, him getting hot for a few games could put Oklahoma in San Antonio. Sample size can be your friend in a one-and-done tournament when you’ve got a player who can fill it up like Young can.

Young is a force that makes you bend to his presence. That works both for and against Oklahoma at times. That’s one of those good problems.

Jevon Carter, Lamont West lead No. 18 West Virginia past No. 15 Virginia

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the second consecutive season No. 18 West Virginia managed to beat No. 15 Virginia despite having to play at a tempo slower than what they prefer, this time beating the Cavaliers 68-61 in Morgantown. West Virginia (8-1) was led offensively by guards Jevon Carter and Lamont West, who combined to score 45 points with Daxter Miles Jr. adding 12.

Devon Hall scored 19 and Kyle Guy 18 for Virginia (8-1), which suffered its first loss of the season. Here are four takeaways from West Virginia’s eighth win of the season, a result that will look quite good on the Mountaineers’ résumé moving forward.

1. While we know plenty about Jevon Carter, Lamont West’s progression will be critical for the Mountaineers moving forward.

After averaging 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game off the bench as a redshirt freshman, West is of far greater importance to the Mountaineer attack this season. The 6-foot-8 wing entered Tuesday’s game averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game, shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from three. West outperformed those numbers in a big way against Virginia, as his 22 points were scored on 7-for-13 shooting from the field (4-for-9 3PT) and a 4-for-4 night from the foul line.

Add in his four rebounds, and West put forth what was arguably the best performance of his WVU career at just the right time. He did tally 22 points and eight boards in a blowout win over Long Beach State last month, but putting up good numbers against a team the caliber of Virginia is an entirely different deal. The key for West now: consistency. That will especially be important on nights in which the Mountaineer defense isn’t forcing a high number of live-ball turnovers.

2. Kyle Guy essentially experienced two different games, and Virginia can’t afford that.

The 6-foot-3 junior finished the game with 18 points, but things did not come easy for Guy with Daxter Miles Jr. pestering him for much of the night. Guy missed all five of his shot attempts in the the first half, and Guy was scoreless until the 13:53 mark of the second half when he made his first three-pointer. That shot was all Guy needed to get going, as he would make his next four three-point attempts and finish the half 6-for-9 from deep.

Virginia had enough offense to hang around throughout, with West Virginia’s combination of shot-making and stout half-court defense making the difference down the stretch. But where would that game have been for Virginia with a more effective Guy in the first half? A three-point halftime deficit could have been flipped, giving the Cavaliers the buffer needed to pick up the win.

Guy’s been excellent throughout this season; many scorers will have a hard time scoring points against West Virginia. Virginia can’t afford for him to be a “streak” scorer, in large part to the lack of consistent offensive options if Guy isn’t knocking down shots.

3. There aren’t many point guards in America I’d take before Jevon Carter.

There may be guards of higher acclaim when it comes to the NBA Draft boards, but there aren’t many who rate higher than Jevon Carter when it comes to the combination of skill, leadership and toughness. Carter’s fingerprints were all over this one, as in addition to scoring a game-high 23 points he also tallied ten rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

Carter played all 40 minutes for the Mountaineers and the effort never waned, and in him Bob Huggins has a senior floor general of high value. While others have stepped forward at various points to help out as West Virginia counts down the days until Esa Ahmad is eligible to return, Carter has been the constant. He’ll be in the conversation for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, and an All-American team nod will be worth discussing as well at this rate.

4. Virginia needs more consistent production from its front court moving forward.

The Cavaliers received good first-half minutes from Mamadi Diakite, who accounted for seven points and three rebounds off the bench. But outside of his 13 first-half minutes Virginia did not receive much in the way of production from its front court. Isaiah Wilkins finished the game with two points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, Jack Salt had more turnovers (three) than rebounds (two) or points (none), and Diakite would finish the game with nine points and five rebounds.

Kyle Guy and Devon Hall are going to lead the way offensively for Virginia, but the Cavaliers do not have much margin for error on that end of the court. Wilkins entered Tuesday averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, and his struggles Tuesday can also be attributed to the play of West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. But if Virginia is to contend with the expected contenders in the ACC, they’re going to need more consistent production from the bigs.

The Cavaliers won’t need the second coming of Ralph Sampson (that would be nice, though), but they’ll need more than what they received from the front court in Morgantown.

Huggins inks extension with West Virginia

AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
1 Comment

There are few better matches between coach and school than Bob Huggins and West Virginia. The Morgantown native and West Virginia alum pretty much embodies the Mountaineers.

West Virginia announced Monday that it had reached an agreement that would allow Huggins to continue to coach beyond the 2021-22 season or step away into another role at the university.

“This is a great day for our department. I want Bob Huggins leading our basketball program for many years to come,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said. “Bob is a future Hall of Famer, who cares about his players and this University. His teams have been highly successful on the court and in the classroom. In finalizing this contract extension, I wanted the eighth all-time and third-winningest active Division I coach on our sideline leading his alma mater.”

Huggins’ deal would allow him to keep coaching once his deal expires in 2022 or assume a five-year Emeritus status which would pay him $550,000 in its first year. He’s set to make $3.75 million this year as coach and will receive $100,00 annual raises.

Huggins, in his 11th year at West Virginia, has won 229 games with the Mountaineers and gone to eight NCAA tournaments, making the 2010 Final Four. He’s won 819 games overall over 35 years as a coach. The program has been revitalized in recent years as well as Huggins as transitioned them to the “Press Virginia” style of full-court pressing that has helped the Mountaineers to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Big 12.

West Virginia, led by potential Big 12 player of the year candidate Carter, are expected to challenge Kansas for the top spot in the conference this season.

“I am very lucky to be able to coach in the state and at the University that I love so much,” Huggins said in a statement.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Jevon Carter enters NBA Draft, won’t hire agent

Leave a comment

West Virginia guard Jevon Carter has submitted his name as an early entry into the 2017 NBA Draft. He will not hire an agent, leaving him the option to return to Morgantown for his senior season.

“Jevon will go through the process in a systematic and professional manner by exploring the situation and leaving open his option to come back for his senior season,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said in a statement issued by the university on Monday afternoon.

Carter, one of the nation’s elite defenders, averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the Mountaineers this past season.

If this decision is simply exploratory, like many assume it is, Carter has until May 24 to withdraw his name from the draft.

With the 6-foot-2 Carter back in the lineup, West Virginia is projected to be a top-15 team entering the 2017-18 season, according to NBC Sports.