Can West Virginia Keep It Together?

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2018

For a touch over three years now, West Virginia has experienced consistent success playing one of the country’s most unmistakable brands of basketball. Lest you call the Mountaineers’ pressing style a gimmick, they’re 93-29 over a period that includes two Sweet Sixteen runs, a Big 12 Tournament crown and one other finals appearance. But just like every Big 12 team other than Kansas, a regular season title has eluded Bob Huggins. The ‘Eers have been right in the thick of the race over the last two seasons, finishing second in both, but while banking on the Jayhawks to cede the regular season league title remains a sucker’s bet, West Virginia absolutely has the pieces on hand to finish the job in 2018.

Jevon Carter (left) doesn’t care how quickly Trae Young is rising up the draft boards.
(Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports)

Though their competition in the run-up to league play was not great, the Mountaineers are nonetheless are off to a 14-1 start with zero losses since Opening Night. Their resume includes an early December win over Virginia that has only escalated in value, and a victory over Oklahoma that doubled as a reminder that Trae Young — as talented and electrifying as he is — is also a human who occasionally has to share a court with the one-man defensive juggernaut that is Jevon Carter. As the unrelenting heartbeat of the Mountaineers, Carter has continued to improve despite the consensus that he first played for Huggins in the old Big East. As good as Carter already was — the senior guard was an All-Big 12 Second Team selection last season — he’s improved his game on both ends, increasing his steal rate, assist rate, ability to draw contact and free throw proficiency. Additionally, in a system that relies on non-stop activity, depth and fresh legs, Miles has played 83 percent of the available minutes during the young conference season.

Carter has also had plenty of support, though. Daxter Miles continues to be an ideal sidekick in the Mountaineers’ backcourt and freshman Teddy Allen has been a surprise contributor too, capturing Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors with consecutive 20-point games against Kansas State and Oklahoma. Up front, Sagaba Konate, Lamont West and Wesley Harris have held the fort and then some in the absence of Esa Ahmad, who is scheduled to return from suspension on Saturday against Texas Tech.

Just like every Big 12 contender, West Virginia will need to fend off pressure from the league’s cavernous top half, but it must also avoid the land mines that stonewalled them in each of the last two seasons. In 2016, the Mountaineers were swept by a solid but clearly inferior Texas team, and those two losses were the difference between sharing the conference crown with Kansas and finishing as the runner-up. Last season, the difference was a vast four games in the conference standings, but so was the number of surprising defeats West Virginia suffered as it dropped roadies to mediocre Texas Tech and Kansas State squads as well as home games to a putrid Oklahoma team and a beatable Oklahoma State squad.

It appears that West Virginia has the experience, depth and ability to be the team that finally lays Kansas’ streak of Big 12 dominance to rest, but whether it has the long-term focus is a question Huggins’ team will have to answer for itself.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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One response to “Can West Virginia Keep It Together?”

  1. WVU Fan says:

    Hi Brian,

    I enjoyed reading your article. I have a question about whether it was Miles or Carter that played 83 percent of the available minutes. It seemed like you were about to give a stat about Carter, but then you mentioned Miles instead. Thanks for the article and keep up the good work.

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