After finishing the 2013-14 season unranked, with an 18-16 record, and losing in the first round of the NIT to Georgetown, the West Virginia University Men’s Basketball team is off to a great start in 2014-15. As of today, the Mountaineers are ranked 16th/17th and off to an undefeated 7-0 start. When WVU entered the rankings last week, it was the first time they had been ranked since March 2011. I’d be lying if I told you fans were as excited for the pending hoops season as they were prior to the start of the football season kicking off in August. After having two of our starters transfer —again—WVU fans were starting to wonder what the problem was in Morgantown. The reality is, there was none.
Juwan Staten was preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, ranked 12th in CBS Sports top 100 college basketball players for 2014-2015, and 8th in USA Today’s 12 must-watch college basketball players of 2014-2015. To no one’s surprise, Staten is currently leading the team with an average of 15.1 points per game and 4.3 assists per game. At the conclusion of last season, many would say Staten did most of the heavy lifting for WVU. But, there’s been a change of pace with the help of some other key players, including Daxter Miles Jr., Jaysean Paige, Jonathon Holton, and Devin Williams.
Following Staten, Holton has proved to be a vital addition as he is 2nd on the team with 12.9 points per game and second with 8.0 rebounds per game. Williams is leading the team in rebounds with 8.4 per game. Paige, a junior college transfer, has been a strong asset to this team thus far, adding 16 points to the board against Lafayette. Miles, a freshman, has also played a huge role in the way WVU has turned it around, with a career high of 12 points against VMI.
Forcing turnovers have been an enormous reason for West Virginia’s early season success. As a team, WVU is 1st in the country for steals per game averaging 13.9. Let us not forget that the Mountaineers finished the regular season last year at 142nd in the country in steals per game with 6.4.
Also, defense and depth allowed the Mountaineers to take control of the Connecticut Huskies — the defending national champions—game and close it out. In the game against VMI, they tied a school record in steals at 26. If this continues, the Mountaineers have a legitimate shot at the Big XII title and making a run in the NCAA tournament come March.
This is the best start since beginning 11-0 in the 2009-2010 season. If you don’t recall how that season ended, it was inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as part of the Final Four. Coach Bob Huggins was recently quoted as saying, “I’ve got my kind of players again. Guys that will play, guys that will compete, guys that won’t back down from anybody.” That’s the simplest way to describe what’s going on. Certain players don’t mesh well in certain systems, with certain coaches, or at certain schools. But finally, for the first time since 2011, Coach Huggins feels he’s got ‘his’ type of players. That’s a scary proposition for the rest of the Conference.