by Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network Sports
Martinsburg, W.Va – Last season falls in the forgettable column for WVU Basketball. Unfortunately, for West Virginia fans, there are too many seasons across too many sports that have fallen into that category.
The Mountaineers finished below the 500 mark for just the 3rd time in the Bob Huggins era (the 4th total mark in his illustrious career). And to top it off 8 of the top 9 scorers from a season ago are now gone.
Rebuilds are nothing new to Huggins, he took an 8-19 Akron team to 22 wins within 2 seasons of assuming the position. And a Cincinnati program that had 3 losing seasons in the 4 years prior to him taking the job, to never finishing with a losing record during his tenure.
8 of the 14 faces on this year’s squad are brand new, with Emmitt Matthews coming back for his second tour of duty. With the Mountaineers missing 3 of the last 4 NCAA tournaments here’s what the gold and blue need to do to right the ship:
1) Tre Mitchel needs to lead the team in scoring
The 6’9 big man is inarguably the most exciting transfer Huggins was able to fish out of the transfer portal.
Mitchell spent last season in a crowded Texas offense competing for shots with the likes of Marcus Carr, Timmy Allen, Andrew Jones, and Courtney Ramey.
Before that, he was one of the top players in the Atlantic 10 at UMass averaging 18 points per game and 7 rebounds as a minute man and shooting 34% from 3.
I expect Mitchell to slide into the Jalen Bridges roll at the 4 positions but not to be so gunshy shooting the ball.
If the lanky long-range assassin can return to his UMass days he can unlock a dimension in this WVU offense and open up lanes and open looks for his teammates around him.
2) Erik Stevenson actually needs to shoot the ball well
Bob Huggins has said during pre-season practices that this team hits shots. He said that about last year’s squad too.
WVU lost both Taz Sherman (17 points, 35% from 3) and Sean McNiel (12 points 37% from 3) from a season ago, and need shooting in the backcourt.
Their replacement has immediately been heralded as Erik Stevenson, a transfer from South Carolina. But there is just one problem, Stevenson has never been a particularly efficient shooter.
Stevenson is 1 of 3 power 5 transfers on the roster and has averaged just under 10 points per game through his college career but is a career 43% shooter from the field, and 31% shooter from 3. Granted, he did just miss 1 free throw on 62 attempts last year.
Stevenson had his most efficient season from distance shooting 33% but needs to raise that to at least 36% to give WVU the floor spacer that they so desperately desire.
While WVU has a number of capable shooters on this squad they need one above all else to shoot at a high volume to create open opportunities for others.
Last season WVU was 312th in the country in rebounding out of 358. Not good. In the 15 seasons, Huggins has been at the helm their lowest finish had been 151st.
To the hall of famer’s credit, major steps have been taken to address this issue. Jimmy Bell Jr. (who averaged 9.1 boards at Moberly Area Community College) Patrick Suemnick (6 rebounds at Triton College) Mohamed Wague (11.9 rebounds at Harcum College) and the aforementioned Tre Mitchell (4 rebounds last year but 7+ the 2 years before) have all been brought in to bolster the boards.
WVU is not going to be the most efficient offense this season, so they need second-chance points. Coincidentally they also need to limit opponent second-chance points to stay in games.
It’s hard to say a Bob Huggins-led team will finish under 500 2 seasons in a row, but looking at this roster, that may be a realistic prediction. I am concerned with this team’s lack of a primary shot creator, or above-average facilitator.
But, as mentioned above, if WVU gets 14+ from Mitchell and 37% shooting from Stevenson and approves leaps and bounds and the Mountaineers return to rebounding the ball like the days of old, it’s not a stretch to say this team can compete, and build toward at least one more successful tournament run for Huggins