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

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.