Key Departures: Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Elijah Macon, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jevon Carter (Sr.)
SG: Daxter Miles Jr. (Sr.)
SF: Esa Ahmad (Jr.)
PF: Lamont West (RS So.)
C: Sagaba Konate (So.)
Key Reserve Players:
PG: James Bolden (RS So.), PF: Maciej Bender (So.), PF: Derek Culver (Fr.), PG: Brandon Knapper (Fr.), SG: Chase Harler (So.), SF: Wesley Harris (So.), SF: D’Angelo Hunter (Jr.), PF/C: Logan Routt (RS So.), SF: Teddy Allen (Fr.)
The Mountaineers lose a total of five seniors from a season ago. They lose experience, leadership, and valuable minutes. Additionally, to the surprise of many, Elijah Macon chose to turn pro, instead of returning to Morgantown. On the positive side, West Virginia does return three of its top five scores in Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., and Esa Ahmad.
It is simple as this, Jevon Carter will be one of the best players in all of college basketball this year. Carter is an extension of Bob Huggins on both ends of the court. He is the head of the snake on defense, and in charge of running the offense. Carter was a First-team All-Big 12 member last year, he is a three time Big 12 All-Defensive team member, and was last year’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged an insane 2.5 steals per game last season. Don’t let his size fool you. He is an absolute beast, filled with passion, toughness, and grit. I can see him competing with Devonte’ Graham of Kansas for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Carter will be joined in the backcourt by another scrappy guard in Daxter Miles Jr., forming a duo of seasoned veterans. Miles Jr. averaged 1.4 steals himself last season. I expect his scoring to increase into double digits for his senior year, especially with a player like Tarik Phillip no longer in the picture. It seems repetitive, but what do all of the top college teams have? Top-notch guard play.
Esa Ahmad is one of my favorite players in the country, and someone who is still underrated. Ahmad has really good size at 6’8″. He had an outstanding performance at home against Kansas last year, scoring 27 points in the victory. Ahmad has a smooth mid-range stroke, but he impresses me the most with his ability to use his body to get to the rim. He has shown us flashes of athleticism and explosiveness, and he can also finish through contact/get to the stripe. He is a good scorer, but needs to be more consistent in order to be an elite scorer for West Virginia. When he demands the ball, it really helps him get going offensively.
I have Lamont West and Sagaba Konate in the starting lineup as the bigs going into the season. There is a lot more time available on the court for both players going into this year with the departures of Adrian, Macon, and Watkins. West got really good experience and solid minutes last season, and I anticipate his role to increase even more this year. West is a really good athlete, who can finish above the rim. He runs the floor well, and showed us his potential to be a threat as a stretch four. West has the chance to be an absolute stud. Konate got decent minutes for a true freshman last year, and I think he can provide a post presence and a bruiser down low for the Mountaineers. I am also really intrigued by his potential as a rim protector. The four-star freshman, Derek Culver, should also see good minutes as well. Culver is a beast on the boards/around the basket, and is a good athlete at the power forward position. I also expect Maciej Bender to see an increase in minutes as a big. Hopefully, he can step into a Nathan Adrian-type role. He has good fundamentals, and can definitely shoot it. Logan Routt will add depth at the center position as well.
James Bolden and and Brandon Knapper will be in charge of the point guard duties behind Carter. Just like Carter, they are small guards, but it will be vital for them to keep up the intensity and hustle that the first unit brings. Bob Huggins brings in two Junior College players in D’Angelo Hunter and Wesley Harris. Both players have really good potential at the small forward position, and will now be exposed to a larger stage. Harris actually played with Malik Newman in high school, and I am really excited to see him play. Teddy Allen, another small forward, could see some minutes here and there off the bench as well, along with the sophomore shooting guard, Chase Harler.
Bob Huggins loves to control the tempo of the game. They’re “Press Virginia” for a reason. I have so many guys in the rotation because Huggins plays with such a deep bench. Virtually the entire roster will likely see minutes on the floor this year. He loves giving younger players experience, even if they only play sparingly. Also, with the pace and the effort that West Virginia plays with, a deeper rotation is needed because the players are exerting so much energy on the court. This year will be no different. I think this team has a really good chance to get to the final four, with Carter now in his final year. I have them tenth in my preseason rankings, and see them finishing close behind Kansas in the Big 12.