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No. 17 West Virginia: Can Press Virginia live on after Jevon Carter?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 17 West Virginia.


It’s not often that Hall of Fame head coaches reinvent themselves when they’re 60 years old with nearly four decades of coaching experience on their résumé, but that is precisely what Bob Huggins did prior to the start of the 2014-15 season.

After missing his second straight NCAA tournament in 2014, the program’s second season as a member of the Big 12, Huggins decided to drastically change the way that his teams would play. The new and improved West Virginia would base everything around one, simple concept: They wanted to maximize the number of possessions they get during a game.

To do so, Huggins made the change to being a team that pressed 94 feet, forcing as many turnovers as possible, pounding the offensive glass and spending the full 40 minutes testing their opponents’ fitness and toughness, both physically and mentally.

Press Virginia was born, and it’s been more successful than I’m sure even Huggins would have predicted. The Mountaineers have been to three Sweet 16 in the last four seasons, never entering the tournament lower than a No. 5 seed. They’ve won at least 25 games each year and finished second in the Big 12 three of those four season and no worse than a tie for fourth.

Those four seasons also happened to coincide with when Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles entered the West Virginia program, and no one has represented the ethos of any program better than the way that duo represented the Mountaineers these last four seasons.

It begs the question: Can West Virginia press on without the two players most responsible for that change?

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WEST VIRGINIA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The system is the system.

Press Virginia is Press Virginia.

The most important skill that a player can have when playing for this iteration of Bob Huggins is that he is willing to play his tail off.

This is not something that can be coached or taught, for the most part. This is something that a kid has or doesn’t have, but the beauty in the way that Huggy Bear has recruited is that he is not going to bring a player onto his campus or into his locker room if he doesn’t believe they’ll be able to deliver when they’re called upon. Put another way, he’s not signing a kid that won’t leave everything they have on the floor every night.

Carter is the perfect example. Huggins told me the story of when he decided to offer Carter last March. It was during an 8 a.m. game at AAU Nationals in Orlando. Huggins was sitting courtside with a coffee, trying to shake off the cobwebs, and Carter was out there guarding full court on every possession even though his team wasn’t pressing.

Huggins called one of his assistants. “We’ve got to sign this guy. I don’t know what he does well, but he sure tries to guard.”

That’s the kind of player that he brings in, which is why it’s become fairly easy for him to be able to replace “program guys”, players that weren’t necessarily stars but that fit the ethos of a team. Glue guys, veteran leaders, the swiss army knife that made all the other pieces on the team fit.

Nathan Adrian was a program guy, a 6-foot-8 West Virginia native that turned into the point-man of Huggins’ press while developing into a solid scorer and shooter. When he graduated, he was replaced by the likes of Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Wesley Harris. Adrian himself filled a void that was left by Jonathon Holton.

Carter stepped into Jaysean Paige’s shoes after Paige took the reins from Juwan Staten. West Virginia lost Devin Williams a year earlier than expected but didn’t miss a beat as Sagaba Konate has had developed into the nation’s most intimidating shot-blocker.

With West Virginia, there is always going to be a next man up.

Beetle Bolden (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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BUT WEST VIRGINIA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

I know this is totally antithetical to what I just wrong, but what Carter and Miles provided this program cannot and will not be replicated.

Carter was a unicorn. The way that he was able to apply pressure on the ball, the tenacity and relentless with which he defended, his basketball IQ — Carter had a rep for telling opponents where to be when they ran the wrong play — was unique. Miles was not on his level, but he still was a guy that could get after a ball-handler and carried with him the dogged determination of a player that spent his entire life being overlooked and underrecruited.

That permeated the entire Mountaineer basketball program. They set a tone. They were the example. And the truth is that that kind of leadership cannot be taught or learned; you either have it or you don’t.

Carter and Miles were the personification of a “program guy”. The Mountaineers have lost “program guys” like this in the past and survived, but this one feels different if only because I am not convinced that the next men up are going to be able to do what Carter and Miles did during their four-year careers.

Press Virginia has, for the last four years, finished either first or second in the country in turnover percentage. Twice, that led to the Mountaineers finishing the year as a top six defensive nationally, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. Last year, however, they finished outside the top 40, and it is not a coincidence that this happened in the season where the Mountaineers finished with the lowest turnover rate of the Press Virginia era.

In 2017-18, West Virginia forced a turnover on 23.4 percent of their defensive possessions. The previous three seasons, their average turnover rate was 26.9%.

It’s not a coincidence that the least effective Press Virginia team we’ve seen to date was the one that forced the fewest turnovers.

And next season, the Mountaineers will be replacing a backcourt that featured two seniors that stood 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds with junior Beetle Bolden and redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper, who are listed at 6-foot-0, 175 pounds and 6-foot-0, 180 pounds, respectively, which is why …

Esa Ahmad (Elsa/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

… West Virginia’s season really hinges on whether or not their current guards are going to be able to apply the ball pressure and defensive intensity that Carter and Miles did for four years.

I hate to belabor the point, but more than any other program in college basketball, the Mountaineers thrive based on the system that they run. The concept is pretty simple, really: West Virginia does not have great halfcourt offensive weapons, so they play this style — pressing, attacking the offensive glass — to maximize the number of possessions they get, and to ensure they get as many easy baskets as possible. This matters because in order to get into their press, they need to make the other team take the ball out of the rim.

They need to make shots.

Frankly, a pressing system like this winds the clock back. West Virginia may be the only team in college basketball that defies math, where two-pointers — made at a higher percentage leading to a higher percentage of defensive possessions where they can get into the press — are actually more efficient than three-pointers.

It all works in concert.

Their defense leads to easy buckets which, in turn, leads to the Mountaineers being able to get into their defense, and so on.

That’s what makes Bolden, Knapper, Trey Doomes, Jermaine Haley and Jordan McCabe so important.

If their press isn’t effective, if their guards aren’t forcing turnovers and turning them into easy buckets, then West Virginia just is not going to be all that good.

Sagaba Konate (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

At this point, what can we do other than trust in Hugs?

The Mountaineers have lost important pieces every season — including heading into the inaugural year of Press Virginia — and they’ve been arguably the second-best program in the Big 12 the last four years.

And it’s not like the cupboard is bare.

The things that Sagaba Konate can do in front of the rim are ridiculous. He’s the most entertaining shot-blocker that I can remember watching at the college level if only because his size seems to invite opponents to try and dunk on him. His timing, his leaping ability and his celebrations are all elite, and when you have an eraser in front of the rim, ready and willing to clean up any mistakes made by perimeter defenders, it lifts the entire defense.

Esa Ahmad should be in line for a big year. He’s averaged double-figures each of the last two seasons despite playing with Jevon Carter — and missing the first half of last year due to academic issues — and is the odds-on favorite to lead West Virginia in scoring this season. Lamont West and Wesley Harris (pending legal troubles) also appear to be in line for big years. Throw in a pair of JuCo transfers and two freshmen in Derek Culver and Trey Coomes that should be ready to contribute immediately, and Huggins has a nice mix of experienced talent, youth and depth.

They should be a tournament team again.

But the difference between finishing in the tournament and making a run at the top of the Big 12 is vast, and it’s hard for us to know which West Virginia will be until we get a glimpse at what they can do defensively.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Iowa basketball coach admits to sexually exploiting 400 boys

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A prominent Iowa youth basketball coach faces potentially decades in prison after admitting to a yearslong pattern of sexually exploiting and abusing at least 400 boys, including former players, their friends and other young athletes.

Greg Stephen, 42, posed as girls on social media to trick the boys into making live videos masturbating. He secretly recorded them showering during trips to tournaments. In some cases he recorded himself fondling nude players as they slept.

The massive scope of Stephen’s abuse was revealed in a plea agreement filed Thursday after the former Iowa Barnstormers coach pleaded guilty to seven charges, including sexually exploiting minors and possessing and transporting child pornography, in federal court in Cedar Rapids.

Stephen’s arrest in March shocked the basketball community in Iowa, where he for years was a coach and co-director of the Adidas-sponsored traveling program for the state’s top youth players. The case has played out amid heightened awareness of sexual abuse in sports triggered by the arrest of disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving decades in prison after hundreds of women and girls accused him of sexually assaulting them under the guise of medical treatment.

Stephen acknowledged that he had a hard drive containing folders named for 400 different boys, each containing explicit photos and videos that he had amassed over the years through his involvement in the program for children ages 9 to 17. Many former Barnstormers have gone on to play college basketball at Division 1 programs.

Some images were of boys undressing and showering, captured by recording devices that Stephen secretly placed in hotel bathrooms. Devices designed to look like a bath towel hook and a smoke detector were used at his home in Monticello, Iowa, and his lake cabin in nearby Delhi.

Stephen also took photos and videos of sleeping boys with their pants pulled down, including recordings of himself touching their genitals with his hands and, in at least one case, his mouth.

One such recording involved a boy who was 11 or 12 and had been given medication by Stephen that made him drowsy beforehand. Stephen would share beds with players during trips in which players competed in American Athletic Union tournaments or attended NBA games.

When they weren’t traveling together, Stephen often posed as teenage girls on Facebook and Snapchat and used those profiles to trick boys into giving him explicit images. He would offer to exchange nude videos and photos, telling the boys the types of images to produce. He used software to record live transmissions of the boys without their knowledge, and saved those images as well as their chats.

Prosecutors said the victims’ folders included at least one explicit video or photo of each, with some containing many different types. The plea agreement says that Stephen “committed sexual acts and sexual contact” on an unspecified number of boys.

The conduct occurred in 2018 and in “past seasons going back several years,” according to the plea agreement, which notes Stephen had been involved with the Barnstormers since 2008.

Stephen had initially offered an innocent explanation of the videos of boys showering, telling investigators they were intended to monitor their physical development and were not sexual in nature.

Stephen’s conduct was exposed after his former brother-in-law, Vaughn Ellison, discovered a recording device while remodeling Stephen’s home in February. Ellison gave the device to police after seeing that it contained several videos of boys showering in hotels in Lombard, Illinois, and Ankeny, Iowa. Investigators obtained warrants to search Stephen’s homes , where they found the hard drive and other devices.

Stephen’s attorneys have argued that the evidence should be suppressed because it was based on Ellison’s unlawful seizure of a device. A judge rejected that argument earlier this month . The plea agreement allows Stephen to appeal that decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

If his conviction stands on appeal, Stephen will face a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 180 at sentencing, which hasn’t been scheduled. He has been in custody since his arrest and will remain jailed pending sentencing.

The agreement notes that the potential sentence he faces will be lengthened due to the number and age of victims, the fact that he engaged in sexual acts and contact with multiple boys, and that he had supervisory control over them.

NCAA denies Oregon State forward’s request for immediate eligibility

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While Virginia received good news on Monday regarding its immediate eligibility appeal on behalf of Alabama transfer Braxton Key, Oregon State was not as fortunate.

Tuesday afternoon it was announced that the school’s appeal of the NCAA’s initial refusal to grant power forward Payton Dastrup immediate eligibility has also been denied. As a result Dastrup, who began his collegiate career at BYU, will have to sit out the 2018-19 season and Oregon State will be short a big as it looks to account for the early departure of Drew Eubanks.

Dastrup will have two seasons of eligibility at Oregon State, beginning with the 2019-20 campaign, and he will be able to practice with the team this season.

Senior Gligorije Rakocevic and junior Ben Koné are Oregon State’s most experienced interior players, with the former having averaged 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game in 2017-18. Koné was limited to just 16 games as a sophomore, as he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee last October.

Junior Kylor Kelley and freshmen Warren Washington and Jack Wilson will also factor into the Beavers’ post rotation, with the 7-foot tall Kelley having averaged 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game at Lane (Oregon) CC last season.

Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo Center getting $45 million makeover

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Duquesne is giving the A.J. Palumbo Center a major makeover after the upcoming basketball season.

The school announced Tuesday that the reimagined 30-year-old arena will be named UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse after former Duquesne basketball player Chuck Cooper. Cooper played for the Dukes from 1947-1950 before becoming the first African-American to be drafted by an NBA team. The Boston Celtics selected Cooper in the second round.

The renovation is expected to begin in March and cost an estimated $45 million. It is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020-21 season. The school did not say where the Dukes would play in the meantime.

The Palumbo Center opened in 1988 and serves as the home for the Duquesne men’s and women’s basketball teams. While the updated arena will have wider concourses, a new video board and upgrades to premium seats, capacity is expected to stay around 4,400.

Former Cincinnati assistant charged with misdemeanor assault

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Former Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis, who abruptly announced his retirement after more than 30 years in college coaching, is now facing a federal misdemeanor assault charge in connection with an incident that occurred on an airplane in September 2017.

According to FOX 19 Cincinnati, Davis is alleged to have groped a female passenger during a flight from Milwaukee to Charlotte on September 12, 2017. The victim filed a report with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that day. The charge is of the federal variety due to the fact that the alleged incident occurred on an airplane.

Davis served a 12-day, paid suspension as a result of the incident, with the punishment beginning on September 15, 2017, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn released a statement regarding the matter Tuesday, saying that the school had begun “the process for separation” shortly before Davis tendered his resignation last month.

“In Fall 2017, we learned of allegations against former employee Larry Davis regarding an off-campus incident which did not involve any member of the campus community. We immediately took proactive measures and suspended him from his duties while we took additional steps to ascertain more information. We could not substantiate the allegations at that time.

“We recently learned that the allegations may have additional support. Consistent with our guiding principles, we immediately commenced the process for separation.”

Davis, who had been a member of Mick Cronin’s coaching staff since 2006, was the head coach at Furman from 1997 to 2006. While Cronin was away from the team due to a health issue during the 2014-15 season, Davis served as interim head coach.

No. 4 Duke: Can Blue Devils avoid another disappointing season?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 4 Duke.


Duke, once again, is going to enter a college basketball season with the best recruiting class in the sport.

The difference this year is that not only will the Blue Devils bring in the best crop of freshmen, they bring in the best freshmen — four of the top 15 prospects in 247 Sports’ composite rankings will suit up for Coach K this season, including three of the top five and the No. 1 and 2 players in the nation. There are some outlets that rank R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish as the three best recruits in the class, and there’s a chance that those three could end up being the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Let’s ignore the how for now.

(The FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has told us that everyone breaks NCAA rules, but the best players in the country turn down hundreds of thousands of dollars and jobs for family members of the prestige of spending nine months on Duke’s campus?)

The issue here has been the product on the court.

Duke has been a disappointment relative to expectation more or less every year since Coach K made the decision to go all-in on one-and-done prospects. The obvious exception was in 2015, when the Blue Devils figured out how to defend in late February and wound up winning the national title. The same happened last season, but Duke was bounced in the Elite 8 when a Grayson Allen floater spent six seconds on the rim before falling off.

It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it is clear that Duke is nowhere near as consistently dominant now as they have been in the past. The Blue Devils haven’t won an ACC regular season title since 2010. They’ve won just one ACC tournament title since 2011. They’ve reached the second weekend of the tournament just three times in the last eight years.

The biggest issue has been on the defensive end of the floor. It got to the point last season where Duke had no choice but to play zone full-time.

I don’t think that will be the issue this year. Duke, on paper, looks like a team that should be able to guard.

But this team still has some warts that Coach K is going to have to work out.

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DUKE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The amount of talent on this roster makes it nearly impossible for the Blue Devils to fail.

Let’s start with R.J. Barrett. The 6-foot-7 point forward is the overwhelming favorite at this point in the calendar to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and rightfully so. He needs to continue to develop his jumpshot, but he has everything that you’re looking for in an NBA player in the modern NBA. He’s athletic, he’s big enough to be defensively versatile, he’s skilled enough to operate in ball-screens, he can get a bucket, he has impressive court-vision. As far as I’m concerned, all you need to know about Barrett is that, as a 17-year old, he put up 38 points, 13 boards and six assists for Canada in an upset of the United States — who were coached by John Calipari — en route to a gold medal in the U19 World Cup.

I don’t think Barrett is quite as good of a prospect as some of the elite prospects in past seasons, but I do think that it is clear he is the best player in this class.

R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

I said ‘player’ and not ‘prospect’ because there are some people that believe Reddish, and not Barrett, actually has a higher ceiling. At 6-foot-8, Reddish is more of a scorer at this point in his development, although he has played as a ball-handler at the high school and AAU level. He’s probably the best shooter out of Duke’s freshmen as well, and has the tools to be a really good defender.

I haven’t even gotten to Zion Williamson yet. The most famous player in college basketball in years, Williamson became a social media sensation thanks to his otherworldly athleticism. He is 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, yet he dunks from the free throw line like a normal human being claps backboard on a layup and he set Duke’s school record for vertical leap. He’s quick, he’s fast, he has impressive footwork and he’s skilled enough — he’ll be the most dangerous grab-and-go big in the history of college basketball — to be able to handle the ball. He’s even a better shooter and a (much) better passer than he gets credit for.

Throw in Tre Jones, the younger brother of Tyus and the first true point guard Duke has had since the elder Jones finished cutting down the net in Indianapolis in 2015, and we don’t need to discuss anyone else on the roster to justify ranking the Blue Devils in the top five.

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BUT DUKE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

While I love all of the pieces in this freshmen class in a vacuum, I think there is reason to be concerned about how they all fit together.

Duke is going to try and play small this season. That’s not exactly breaking news here. Not only has Duke done this time and again in the past — Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum all played the for four the Blue Devils — but this group has three guys that can fill that role. In fact, this roster is the best-suited to playing that style. The ideal roster build for any team in this era of pace and space is having a point guard, a mobile five-man and three wings that can defend more than one position. That’s precisely what we see here.

It gets even more interesting when we start to think about the possibility of Zion Williamson playing the five a la Draymond Green.

The issue is the ability for the players on Duke to impact a game when they don’t have the ball in their hands.

What makes Golden State special in the NBA and what made Villanova so damn good in the college ranks last season is the same thing: The ability to shoot at every spot on the floor. Jalen Brunson was able to post-up and operate in ball-screens and beat a man one-on-one, but he was also a lethal catch-and-shoot guy. The same can be said for all of his teammates that played meaningful minutes, including center Omari Spellman, who scored 17 points and made four threes for the Atlanta Hawks this weekend.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

The same thing is true with Golden State. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are the glue-guys on that team, but both of them cannot be left open from the three-point line. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are two of the best isolation players in the NBA, but if you leave them open you will pay. Klay Thompson is one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the game.

Duke?

They have four freshmen that are all super-talented but that need to ball in their hands to be effective. Neither Zion nor Barrett are good enough from beyond the arc to force a defender to close out long on them. Reddish can make threes, but he’s known more as a scorer than a shooter at this point in his development than anything else. Jones is fine, but he’s more of a driver and playmaker than he is a shooter.

Without guys to space the floor, without someone willing to accept a role, running offense that doesn’t devolve into players going one-on-one into a crowded lane is difficult.

THE X-FACTOR

For me, the key here is going to be Reddish.

He has something of a reputation from the high school and AAU ranks as a talented kid that played on teams that lost far more games than they should have lost. He’s also going to be the guy that will likely end up having to make the most sacrifices for the good of the team.

Think about it like this: Jones is going to be the natural point guard on this team, and Barrett is going to be the guy that handles secondary ball-handling duties. Zion will be a grab-and-go threat and could lead the country in fast break buckets. In the halfcourt, his role will be pretty clearly defined — he’s going to be the guy attacking the glass and the player that gets isolated against slower and/or smaller defenders.

Reddish is the odd man out.

For a player that has spent his entire life as a lead guard, how will he take to being asked to play on a wing as something of a 3-and-D specialist?

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Duke’s outlook this season is no different than their outlook for the past four or five years.

They have as much raw talent as anyone in the sport of college basketball. They will enter the season as a consensus top four team that some folks are going to rank No. 1 overall. They are going to be the odds-on favorite to win the ACC regular season title, a favorite to get to the Final Four and one of the few true national title contenders in college basketball.

And there enough question marks about the talent, the youth, how the pieces fit and whether or not the pieces truly fit and how well Coach K is going to handle dealing with this much roster turnover to keep us from going all in on the Blue Devils.

Anything short of the Final Four will be yet another disappointment from this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 5 Villanova
No. 6 Nevada
No. 7 Tennessee
No. 8 Virginia
No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette