Bob Huggins lost his top two scorers from a year ago. He still has “Press Virginia.”
West Virginia opens the 2016-17 season with plenty of questions about its offense. Yet that issue has often been a problem that Huggins seems to figure out with athletes he molds to play defense first at a furious pace.
Forward Devin Williams left after his junior season to enter the NBA draft and guard Jaysean Paige, who led the Mountaineers with 13.7 points off the bench, graduated. They represented a third of West Virginia’s scoring. Williams and the departed Jonathan Holton combined for 17 rebounds a game.
No returning player averaged double digits in scoring or more than three rebounds.
Huggins said the points will come if his players can take better care of the basketball.
West Virginia was second nationally in forced turnovers, steals and offensive rebounds last season but also was among the worst in turnovers at 14 per game.
“Our ball security was as bad as it’s been in probably the nine years I’ve been here,” Huggins said. “We just can’t throw it away the way we did. We would steal the ball and then turn it back over.”
Starting guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles return to help Huggins figure out a way to dethrone perennial Big 12 champion Kansas. The Mountaineers lost to the Jayhawks in the Big 12 title game and league coaches have picked West Virginia to finish second again.
“We’ve come a long way in terms of respect in the league,” Huggins said. “But that doesn’t mean anything unless you back it up. And now we’ve got to go back it up.”
West Virginia went 26-9 last season and fell to Stephen F. Austin in its opener at the NCAA Tournament.
Some other things to watch as the Mountaineers pursue their eighth NCAA appearance in Huggins’ 10 seasons:
NEWBIES: Huggins has five freshmen on the roster, including James “Beetle” Bolden, who missed the entire 2015-16 season with torn knee ligaments. They’ll be sure to get some action in nonconference games as Huggins unleashes the latest version of his full-court defense. “We’re going to play a lot of people,” Huggins said. “I hope we can get into other people’s bench and make them play guys that they haven’t played a lot and just a cumulative effect of what we do wears on them.”
POST PROBLEMS: Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins and others will have the tough task of trying to make up for the loss of Williams’ post presence. Macon and Watkins combined for five points per game. Watkins missed much of last season with a sprained knee.
BYE-BYE CYST: Forward Nathan Adrian, who started 16 games, was having wrist problems last season and it hurt every time he shot the ball. Huggins said Adrian didn’t tell him until the end of the regular season. Doctors found a cyst, which was removed and Adrian no longer feels pain. “I think he shot the ball pretty well at the end of last year and I think he’ll shoot it really well this year,” Huggins said.
OTHER VETERANS: Forward Esa Ahmad started all 34 games a year ago and looks to improve on his five-point scoring average. Guard Tarik Phillip provided plenty of help off the bench. Phillip had four games with at least 18 points and one 10-assist game.
HERE’S THE BEEF: West Virginia has three players weighing at least 240 pounds, two of them newcomers — 6-10 Maciej Bender and 6-8 Sagaba Konate, along with Macon at 6-9. They could help bulk up West Virginia’s defense near the basket. The Mountaineers’ 2.7 blocked shots per game last season were the worst in the Big 12.
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