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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

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: Transferring players need ‘deterrent’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The NCAA is granting too many waivers allowing players who transfer to compete immediately, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Wednesday, calling the requirement that players sit out a year a useful “deterrent” to players switching schools.

Brey made his comments at a meeting of the Knight Commission, a nonprofit that pushes for reform in college sports. While the commission has not taken a position on transfer waivers, it often advocates for players being given more freedom to pursue their professional ambitions.

“As coaches we’re concerned about the number of waivers, to the point where the NCAA has given too much of a blueprint on how to get a waiver,” Brey said. “Kids feel they can go and, you know, bring up enough of a case to get eligible right away. So they’re more apt to want to go.”

In April 2018, the NCAA relaxed its waiver requirements, allowing a transferring player to suit up immediately if there are “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, 79 men’s basketball players requested waivers and 44 were granted, a 56% success rate, according to NCAA data. Men’s basketball accounted for 33% of all waiver requests, the NCAA said.

Commission co-chairman Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, declined to comment on waivers but lauded the “transparency” of the NCAA’s transfer portal, in which players submit their names if they want to switch schools.

Brey said he believes players should be free to transfer and that it’s up to coaches to make their players want to stay, but he said sitting out a year can be beneficial and prevents players from transferring for immature or capricious reasons.

“It’s a bit of a deterrent for a kid. The year in residency saves kids from themselves sometimes,” Brey said. “I’ve seen some kids then come back, stick it out, and now they’re in the lineup and they come back five years later and go, ‘I was an idiot.’ Because every kid thinks about (transferring) when he’s not playing.”

ROADBLOCKS TO REFORM

Brey’s comments were one of a few examples from Wednesday’s meeting of the basketball establishment pushing back against reforms that would give players more autonomy or promote transparency about the way schools profit from college athletics.

The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to release to the public the financial details of contracts between athletic departments and shoe and apparel companies, a proposal that has not gained much traction. In the past, the commission has persuaded the NCAA to release graduation rates and other financial data, including compensation for coaches.

“The shoe companies, there has to be agreement across the board, that there has to be willingness and openness to share all those records. Candidly, I think more work needs to be done,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance. “We don’t control all the third parties and their ability to cooperate with us. More conversation needs to continue to occur within the NCAA and between the NCAA and the third parties if we want to move the ball.”

Two NBA executives told the commission the league is in talks with the players’ union about lowering the NBA’s minimum age to 18, prompted largely by a recommendation by the Commission on College Basketball to rid the sport of the “one-and-done rule.”

But even that proposal is meeting some resistance in the NBA. David Krichavsky, the league’s senior vice president and head of youth basketball development, said some in the league would rather raise the age limit than lower it.

“Many teams and general managers would still be in favor of going to 20, given the additional scouting information you receive on players, seeing them compete at the NCAA level for two years after high school,” Krichavsky said, “but at the same time we recognize that the world has changed and will continue to change.”

COACHES BEHAVING BADLY

Brey, the president of the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said he’d like to see coaches reach a consensus about how to police their own behavior.

An ongoing federal investigation into illicit payments made to players during the recruiting process led Louisville to fire longtime coach Rick Pitino, but some other coaches implicated in the probe have held onto their jobs. Brey said schools ought to move more aggressively to fire coaches for cause when they violate NCAA rules.

“We all have clauses in our contracts about NCAA rules and behavior, all of us. If those are violated, doesn’t that start on the campuses?” Brey said. “And no question the NABC could make a stronger stand. We have not maybe been as vocal about some of the things that have gone on.”

Report: NCAA will give more notices of allegations soon

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Now that the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases are complete, the NCAA will likely move forward with more notices of allegations.

Speaking to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon said that more investigations could come “in due time and I think  very quickly.”

The NCAA needed to wait for the FBI’s trials to finish up before launching its own investigations on schools mentioned over the past 18 months. We could see a high number of big-name programs get investigated during the NCAA’s process.

“You don’t get in the way of a federal investigation,” Lennon said Wednesday. “Activity was going on during that span that was within our purview, but now that the court cases are done, now we’re in a position where you’re likely to see notices of allegations going to institutions that have violated NCAA rules, etc. I think you can anticipate notices of allegations will be coming.”

Following the completion of the first FBI trial in October 2018, the NCAA already reportedly sent notice of allegations to Arizona, Kansas, NC State and Louisville. Other prominent programs, including but not limited to, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and USC have also been mentioned during recent college basketball corruption trials.

While the NCAA will seek all documents that schools turned over to the federal government during legal procedures, the real difficulty in the NCAA’s investigations will be getting third-party participants to speak — or even cooperate in the first place. Those not tied to the NCAA through member schools have no legal obligation to help the NCAA during their investigation process.

Wednesday’s Knight Commission meeting also went over processes discussed or implemented because of the Rice Commission’s April 2018 report. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, president of the board of directors for the NABC, made waves by questioning where accountability comes from when it comes to coaching penalties.

Asking why “there’s been no hammer from the top of campus,” Brey asked why schools haven’t been accountable with coaches who break the rules.

“Why hasn’t an athletic director or a president acted in some of these current cases?” Brey said.

“I think a lot of our coaches want to know why hasn’t the hammer come down? I’m a little naïve to it. Is it legal stuff? A lot of lawyers? I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations. We need an explosion back.”

Brey has every right to question where penalties are coming from since only Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has lost his job among head coaches during this scandal. There seems to be a lot of confusion on where some things stand with the NCAA, and its rules, but maybe we’ll get more clarification now that the FBI trials are done.

Juwan Howard will be the next Michigan head coach

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Juwan Howard is heading back to school.

The former Fab Five member has accepted an offer to replace John Beilein as Michigan’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. He has spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, where he played his final three seasons as a pro. The Wolverines ultimately picked Howard over Providence head coach Ed Cooley and Luke Yaklich, who was an assistant on Michigan’s staff the last two years.

Stadium is reporting that Howard has agreed to a five-year deal.

This will be the first time in 25 years that Howard has been back in the mix on a college campus, since he left Ann Arbor to become the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and that is what makes this decision a risk for the Wolverines.

Howard has never been an assistant coach at the college level. He hasn’t worked at the high school level. He hasn’t coached in the AAU ranks. There is not a strong track record for this kind of a hire. Of all the former NBA player that have ended up coaching a college team, Fred Hoiberg is really the only one that has had unquestionable and continued success. Kevin Ollie won a national title with UConn, but he not only was an assistant coach on Jim Calhoun’s staff for two years before getting the job, his title-winning team was a No. 7-seed that rode Shabazz Napier’s coattails to the title and he eventually got fired after driving UConn straight into the ground. Chris Mullin was a bust at St. John’s. The jury is still out on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, but two years in he’s sitting with a 34-29 record and a 14-22 mark in the Big East.

Avery Johnson. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler. Mike Dunleavy. Mark Price. Danny Manning. The list of NBA guys that have gone back to school and fizzled out is long.

Penny Hardaway — and, to a point, Jerry Stackhouse — are different. Penny worked his way up from the bottom. He started as a middle school coach and spent about a decade coaching in the high school and AAU ranks in Memphis before taking over the Tigers. Stackhouse coached an AAU program before taking over at Vanderbilt as well. They know the ins and outs of building relationships at that level. They had a keen understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the college level when they got hired, even if that understanding came from dealing with coaches recruiting their players.

Howard doesn’t have that.

And it doesn’t mean that he is going to be a flop.

When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade campaigning for you, the kids you will be recruiting will take notice. When your candidacy brings Jalen Rose and Chris Webber together, there are going to be people in Ann Arbor that want to make this work. He spent two decades playing in the NBA. He was an assistant on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, a staff that has turned the Heat into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA ever since LeBron left. That same staff has also proven themselves capable of establishing a culture of hard work, toughness and player development.

Howard may not have a ton of experience on a college bench — or doing the things required to run a college program — but the coaching chops are there.

But there is no question that this is a major risk.

And while Warde Manuel’s decision to hire Ollie when he had the same job in Storrs did result in UConn winning their fourth national title, he also ended up bringing in the guy that had to be fired just four years after cutting down those nets.

Clemson forward Baehre tears knee ligament

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson forward Jonathan Baehre is out indefinitely after tearing a knee ligament.

The school says the injury occurred during practice Monday. There is no timetable for his return.

Baehre is a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from UNC Asheville who sat out last season. With four senior starters gone off this year’s team, Baehre was expected to play a major role for the Tigers.

Coach Brad Brownell says it’s an unfortunate injury for Baehre and the team. Brownell says Baehre had worked hard since joining the Tigers and he had no doubt Baehre would approach rehab strongly “and have a very productive career at Clemson.”

Baehre, from Germany, started 21 games for UNC Asheville in 2017-18 and averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Sam Mitchell leaves Memphis coach Penny Hardaway’s staff

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis coach Penny Hardaway says former NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell is no longer part of his staff.

Mitchell worked as an assistant coach for Memphis in 2018-19 during Hardaway’s debut season. Hardaway said Tuesday at a news conference that Mitchell has “decided to go in another direction.”

Hardaway added that “we definitely appreciate Sam so much and support him.” Hardaway said Mitchell will always be like an “older brother” to him.

Mitchell was an NBA head coach with the Toronto Raptors from 2004-09 and with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015-16. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 2007.