West Virginia’s basketball season came to a surprising stop much earlier than anticipated following a stunning loss to Shephen F. Austin. The 14 point setback stung on so many levels and it led to a state wide reaction of shock. It wasn’t just that the Mountaineers suffered an opening round defeat, its how it went down that was purely frustrating. The Lumberjacks beat WVU with its own weapon-the press, forcing 22 agonizing turnovers. The defensive intensity made the “Eers” uncomfortable and led to a shaky shooting performance.
The lofty expectations for this squad made the early departure from the big dance feel like a big bust. It also made skeptics like ESPN’s Dan Dakich look like a prophet. Even though it’s a case of sour grapes for Dakich and he might have won this battle, he could never win the war. Bob Huggins has forgotten more about the game of roundball than “Double D” will ever know. Mountaineer Nation remembers Dakich as the former WVU Coach (a one week tenure) that stayed in Morgantown for less time than most spend on their summer vacation.
Despite the premature ending, this season provided several “big” wins and proved to be a stepping stone that has taken this program to the top tier of the Big 12 Conference. The 26 wins tied for the fifth most in school history and their run to the championship game in the Big 12 tournament showed a great deal of heart.
Heart was exactly what this team was built on. Huggins showed this group of players what tough love was and they thrived on it. Huggins is in my opinion one of the best motivators in the game of college basketball. His love for his players is unmatched and when a young impressionable hoopster comes in contact with him they can’t help but to want to please their coach. This year’s group played as Huggins himself would if he were back in a Mountaineer uniform. Heart and effort are what propelled this team to such a remarkable campaign.
Looking ahead to next year shows several key returners, but a pair of integral pieces depart and will leave a huge hole to fill. Jaysean Paige and Johnathan Holton played integral parts in this year’s success.
Paige was a first team Big 12 selection that provided instant offense as the sixth man. Holton was a solid rebounder and paint patroller however; his defensive contributions will be missed the most. Holton provided an unmatched pressure on the ball as the point man on the full court press. He not only made inbound passing a nightmare for opponents, his quickness allowed him to immediately aid in double teaming the first pass. His efforts led to a large number of turnovers per game and the press wasn’t quite the same when he missed several games due to suspension.
The program did receive a shot in the arm when Devin Williams announced that he will be coming back to Morgantown next season. Williams joins Nathan Adrian, Jevon Carter, Elijah Macon, Daxter Miles Jr., and Esa Ahmad to form a quality group that will lead the Mounties next year. Ahmad could be the wild card as it appears that his hoops ceiling is very high and he could take a major step in development if he puts the time in this off season.
Huggins also looks to bring in a solid group of newcomers that will compete for playing time and hopefully ease the pain of the loss of Paige and Holton.
There is no question that Huggins looks more to reload than to rebuild. Hard work and dedication this off season will be expected by Huggins and I look for his team to come back with a chip on their shoulder and even more motivated to succeed. Look out Big 12 there could be a new sheriff in town in 2017!
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!