Chip Shots

Basketball woes

by Jim Buzzerd

There was plenty of optimism surrounding the West Virginia University football program last Thursday as new head coach Neal Brown held his introductory press conference. It is a busy time for the new head coach as he is tasked with getting his coaching staff in place and shoring up the recruiting process. We’ll get into this more in a week or so, but things seem to be going well on both fronts. Local and national media have hailed the hiring of Brown and that is great, now we have to wait a season or two to see if he wins games.

Two months ago there was a great amount of optimism surrounding the West Virginia basketball program, optimism that has turned sour. Heading into Tuesday’s game at TCU WVU was 8-8 and has dropped all four of their Big 12 games. I cannot document it, but I saw a statement in October where coach Bob Huggins purportedly told some ‘friends’ that this could be his most talented team ever.
That seems like an absurd statement, as we look at it in mid January. Of course back then Huggins thought he was going to have one of the elite rim protectors in the country in the form of Sagaba Konate playing on WVU’s front line. He also thought he was going to have highly regarded 6-10 freshman Derek Culver playing with Konate on that line. That is surely reason for optimism, because as front lines go, that one would potentially rank as one of WVU’s best ever.

What wasn’t clear back in October was just who on the roster would be the guards to replace the tandem of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles? The thinking seemed to be that juniors Beetle Bolden and Chase Harler had enough experience to allow freshmen Brandon Knapper and Jordan McCabe and junior transfer Jermaine Haley to get up to speed.

That plan was derailed early on when Huggins suspended Culver and he would miss the first 10 games.  Meanwhile Konate was having issues with a painful knee and sat out a couple of games and has not played since the Pitt game on December 8. According to reports, multiple MRI’s show no structural damage to the knee, but the talented junior continues to sit. Culver has come on and, still very raw, shows a huge amount of potential. Indeed, Culver and a healthy Konate on the floor at the same time would be something to see and would give the Mountaineers’ struggling guards a margin for error.

As it stands the guards are struggling. Bolden opened the season primarily at point guard. He has been a serviceable back up at the point the last two seasons, but he has struggled when asked to run the show this season and he is second on the team in turnovers with 34 as a result. Bolden is much better suited to play the off ball guard position and he’s been seeing more time there lately.

Knapper has often been the first sub in at the point which hasn’t fared any better. Despite playing 100 fewer minutes than Bolden, Knapper is third on the team with 30 turnovers. McCabe has been better at limiting turnovers, but the highly regarded freshman has struggled on defense. Bolden, Knapper and McCabe are all 6-0 or under making it difficult to play Bolden at the two guard with either Knapper or McCabe at the point.

That conundrum has left the door open for 6-7 Haley to get more time on the floor playing the point. While it wasn’t clear early in the season, it now looks like Haley makes WVU a little better at guard and allows West Virginia to go with a big lineup at times. Still, at 8-8 the Mountaineers are a long shot for post-season play. Really, at this point, Huggins has some decisions to make.
There is only one senior on the team, but some of those who cover the team on a daily basis have suggested that several more on this team will not be back next season.