When we last saw West Virginia, it was taking a 39-point beating at the hands of Kentucky. It made for a TV spectacle, especially after the words of brash freshman Daxter Miles, who predicted a Mountaineers win. What seems to be forgotten, though, is that the Mountaineers were playing in the Sweet 16 after defeating Maryland by 10 points. Also forgotten: That WVU roster was youthful.
Perhaps that’s why Bob Huggins is looking forward to 2015-16. “We have a lot of experience back plus a very good recruiting class,” Huggins says. “The schedule is harder, but I think we’ll be better.”
That’s a tall statement considering “Press” Virginia was 25–10 and advanced to the second weekend of the NCAAs. Yet 10 Mountaineers averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 2014-15, and only two — leading scorer Juwan Staten and fellow guard Gary Browne — are gone. Back is double-double machine Devin Williams, ball thief Jevon Carter and swat king Jon Holton. Incoming is Ohio High School Player of the Year Esa Ahmad.
The looming question is whether the Mountaineers can navigate their schedule, which includes a Big 12/SEC Challenge game at Florida and a matchup with Virginia in New York.
All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
The problem up front for Huggins is that he doesn’t have a player over 6'9". He plans to overcome that, however, with bulk and length.
Williams is a 6'9", 255-pound load who already has 17 double-doubles in two seasons. “I thought he had a heck of a year last year,” Huggins says. “He got better, more confident and finished better. And he’s continuing to expand his game. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor, get to the basket and use both hands.”
Holton, who boasts a wide wingspan, has been disappointing after transferring from junior college. He committed too many fouls, and his coach says he “got in a hurry” last season. Still, he has potential. Holton, now a senior, averaged 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds and was a weapon in the press last season.
Back, too, is muscled 6'9" sophomore Elijah Macon, a former four-star recruit who showed rust last season after a redshirt year. “He’s shooting better,” Huggins says. “More active.”
The one to watch is Ahmad, WVU’s top incoming recruit. “He understands the game,” Huggins says. “He’s a very good passer and rebounder. He gives us the size on the perimeter we’ve been looking for.”
Forward Brandon Watkins might miss the season after an ACL injury. Nate Adrian is back after wrist surgery.
West Virginia Mountaineers Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-10, 11-7 Big 12
Postseason: Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Big 12 Projection: 6
Postseason Projection: First Round
If you’re wondering how Miles, who averaged 7.3 points, weathered the storm after the Kentucky loss, Huggins says: “Just fine. He plays hard. He’s extremely competitive. I think he’s going to be improved and shoot better. He’s gotten bigger.”
No one was bigger for WVU last year, though, than Carter. WVU led the nation in steals, and Carter led the team with 67, setting a school record for a freshman. “Great freshman year,” Huggins says. “When we moved him to point (guard), he didn’t shoot as well as he had, but it was a great experience for him. He played in hard venues and gained a lot of confidence.”
WVU will boast much depth in the backcourt. Jaysean Paige is back for his senior season. Tarik Phillip, who “might be (WVU’s) most improved over the summer,” says his coach, returns for his junior season.
The Mountaineers are also adding transfer Teyvon Myers, who led the junior college ranks in scoring at 25 per game.
Key Losses: G Juwan Staten, G Gary Browne
Top Players: G Daxter Miles, G Jevon Carter, F Jonathan Holton, F Devin Williams, F Elijah Macon
Bob Huggins is hoping his program is back to where redshirts can be used again. He might use them on two incoming players: guard James “Beetle” Bolden and forward Lamont West. Esa Ahmad and Teyvon Myers, however, will certainly see action. Ahmad was a consensus top-100 recruit. Huggins went all the way to North Dakota to find Myers for scoring.
Don’t sell WVU short. Huggins is expected to again use a pressing style and has terrific depth at his disposal, especially in the backcourt. Williams is the anchor in the frontcourt and Carter the leader at guard, but watch for Ahmad, who picked WVU over Ohio State, Wisconsin, Maryland and Oregon, among others.
There will be two keys. First, the Mountaineers must shoot the ball better than last season. Of 345 teams nationally, WVU was No. 287 in field goal percentage (.408). What offset that, however, was the Mountaineers’ ball-hawking defense. West Virginia took 512 more shots than its opponents. Huggins is hoping Ahmad and Myers will jolt his team’s offense. Another key will be fouling less. A full year of pressing could help there, but officials whistled West Virginia for more fouls than any team in the nation last season.