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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

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.