For most West Virginia basketball fans, March Madness was nothing but pure sadness.
From the opening tip, Thomas Walkup led the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks to an impressive showcase in Brooklyn. The senior forward scored 33 points, pulled down 9 rebounds (4 offensive), and tallied 4 assists. (If you remember, the ‘Eers held Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield to 9 total points in a Big 12 tournament game just a week earlier). After seeing numbers like Walkup’s versus a team like West Virginia, it kind of makes you scratch your head. Where was this feared press everyone raved about? Or the tenacity on the offensive glass? Not many Mountaineers showed up for the tournament game. I mean, they were there; they just didn’t play particularly well. It’s difficult to beat anyone when your four most played guards (Jevon Carter, Jaysean Paige, Tarik Phillip, and Daxter Miles, Jr) combine to shoot 6-29 (20%) in the game. Add the 22 turnovers the Mountaineers piled up, and that’s a perfect recipe for disaster.
So where does Press Virginia go from here? Losing seniors like Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton to graduation was expected. But after junior Devin Williams signs an agent, he’ll be ineligible to return and off to his next endeavor – the NBA. Of course, the ‘Eers aren’t left with nothing. They lose their top 2 scorers in Paige & Williams, but return a solid core of Miles Jr. (9.7 ppg), Carter (9.7 ppg), Phillip (9.4 ppg) and Nate Adrian (4.7 ppg). Devin Williams, along with Holton, were also their top 2 rebounders, pulling down 9.3 and 7.7 rebounds a game, respectively.
One particular bright spot going forward is Esa Ahmad, who averaged only 4.7 points per game as a freshman, but was in the starting lineup for every game he appeared in. Can the swingman from Shaker Heights, Ohio have a breakout sophomore season? With the offensive touches Williams & Paige commanded, there will be plenty of opportunities for Ahmad to flourish.
What sort of help will Bob Huggins bring in with the 2016 recruiting class? At the top of the list is Maciej Bender, a 4-star recruit from Grundy, Virginia. The 6’10, 235-pounder averaged 10.8 ppg and 7 rebounds as a senior while stretching the floor from his power forward position. Another front court signee for the ‘Eers is 6’8 Sagaba Konate from Hermitage, Pennsylvania. As a senior, Konate averaged 15.5 ppg, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. These two guys won’t be plug & play players right away, but they seem to be good building blocks to sustain the success of West Virginia’s basketball program. Two home grown kids round out the 2016 class in Wheeling Central Catholic’s Chase Harler and South Charleston’s Brandon Knapper. Both backcourt players are projects, but it’s nice to see Bob Huggins picking up talent in his own backyard.
The West Virginia Mountaineers’ basketball team for the 2016-2017 season will have quite a different look than its ’15-’16 version of Press Virginia. The star power is gone with the departures of Williams and Paige. The deepest team in college basketball won’t be the ‘Eers, losing 3 of their top 4 players; however, there will be experience on the floor and throughout the bench, returning 7 players who averaged at least 8.5 minutes per game. With this experience, the new influx of talent and the system Huggins’ prefers, WVU is in a great position moving forward.
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