MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia opponents, take note. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins isn’t sure whether his tenacious pressure defense will be on full display this season.
The Mountaineers’ depleted roster might be unable to harass opposing offenses for an entire 40 minutes without wearing down. So Huggins is going to pick and choose his battles.
Oh, Press Virginia is still going to happen. Maybe just not as often.
“We might be better served to do something else,” Huggins said. “We’re going to keep doing it and see.
“I’m more convinced we can’t than we can right now. We kind of play so hard.”
In reaching the NCAA Tournament’s regional semifinals last season, West Virginia led the nation with 10 steals and 20 forced turnovers forced per game, and in turnover margin at 7.7 per game.
Besides the loss to graduation of top rebounder Nathan Adrian and top bench scorer Tarik Phillip, junior forward Esa Ahmad has been ruled ineligible for the first half of the season after failing to meet NCAA requirements. In May, forward Elijah Macon said he wouldn’t return for his final season to pursue a pro basketball career. And Huggins said freshman forward Brandon Knapper won’t play this season after undergoing knee surgery.
That leaves just 11 other players on the roster , and only four who averaged more than 10 minutes per game. Besides Ahmad, the other forwards have a combined one start.
“Our five inside guys are all sophomores,” Huggins said. “Somehow we’ve got to get a couple of them anyways a little ahead of the curve.”
Shouldering much of the load will be senior guard Jevon Carter, the team’s top returning scorer at 13.5 points per game and the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year after leading the league in steals.
Carter is more confident than Huggins is in maintaining the Mountaineers’ pressure defense.
“I think the press is going to be as effective as it’s been,” Carter said.
Some other things to know about West Virginia as it goes after a ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in Huggins’ 11 seasons:
DO-IT-ALL CARTER: Carter said there’s little he hasn’t worked on in the offseason. He put a lot of attention on his defense and finishing plays around the rim. “We’re young, got a lot of new guys,” Carter said. “We definitely need my leadership, now more than ever.”
Carter and backcourt mate Daxter Miles Jr. are the only seniors on the roster.
“JC’s playing at a really, really high level right now,” Huggins said. “I think his ball skills are much, much better.”
VETERAN HELP: Guard James “Beetle” Bolden and forward Lamont West showed scoring bursts a year ago. Bolden had a career-high 17 points in 10 minutes against Oklahoma and eight points in five minutes at Iowa State. West scored in double figures seven times, including a career-high 23 points against Texas ..
NEWCOMERS: Huggins said he is happy in general so far with a pair of junior college transfers, 6-8 Wesley Harris and 6-6 D’Angelo Hunter. The coach said 6-5 freshman Teddy Allen has some toughness and might be the most improved player in practice.
KONATE A SCORER?: Forward Sagaba Konate was fourth in the Big 12 with 53 blocked shots, a school record for a freshman. Huggins said Konate has worked hard on his jump shot enough that the coach plans to run some offensive plays with him. “He’s playing with so much confidence,” Huggins said.
NONCONFERENCE TESTS: The Mountaineers open the season Nov. 10 against Texas A&M in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. Huggins said he likes the exposure the game will bring and its location on a U.S. air base. “To play before our troops is a no-brainer,” he said. West Virginia also will also play Virginia (Dec. 5) and Kentucky (Jan. 27) at home and renew its Backyard Brawl rivalry at Pittsburgh on Dec. 9.