By Luke Wiggs
MARTINSBURG, W.Va – Just weeks away from the Basketball tournament, and excitement is starting to build. With Charleston hosting for the second time in as many years, both WVU and Marshall alumni teams figure to go on deep runs in this year’s tournament but may have to go through each other to get there. If both teams are successful in their first-round matchups on Sunday, July 24th, they would face each other in the second round.
Best Virginia is the top seed in the Charleston regional this year after being the 2 in last year’s contest. The Mountaineer alums had a strong showing, winning games in the first 2 rounds, but inevitably fell in the regional semifinal to 6-seeded Team 23. This prompted a shift in personnel for this upcoming tournament that many believe to be the best iteration of Best Virginia yet.
.@jamel_morris24 returns for his second season with @finalfourcast in the @thetournament. What is Jamel looking forward to this year? He joins @TonyCaridi, @BradHowe07, and @HunterWvu88bgn. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/S65XtqU8WG
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 4, 2022
First, let’s take a look at all 10 players on the roster before we come up with 4 potential lineups for Best Virginia in their quest for the million-dollar prize.
-Played at both WVU and Nicholls State in college averaging 5.6 points, 2.2 rebounds
-Played professionally for Los Mochis in Mexico averaging 5.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and shooting 37% from 3.
Hunter will be asked to be one of the most versatile members of Best Virginia this tournament. His long wingspan gives him the ability to guard 1-4 and we spend time off and on the ball offensively with only one pure point guard on the roster. Hunter will be one of many above-average shooters on this team as well with tremendous spot-up ability while also being able to create his own shot.
-Played at both New Mexico State and WVU averaging 6.6 points and 2 assists.
-Played 7 games in the G League for the Wizards but most recently for Championship-winning London Lightning in Canada averaging 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 35% from 3.
Haley has improved as a shooter since becoming a professional and has developed into more of a force on the wing as well. He is someone that can also play multiple positions being an underrated playmaker and can defend multiple positions as well. Being new to the squad he may not see the most minutes right away but has the perfect pieces as a secondary playmaker, and versatile defensive abilities to make the most impact whenever he is called upon.
-Played in college at WV Wesleyan averaging 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
-Played 7 games in the G League for the Jazz but most recently played for CSU Sibiu in Romania averaging 11 points and 7.7 rebounds per game shooting 39% from 3.
McGrew is the perfect example of the modern big man. The former trombone player turned D2 star was a traditional big in college, becoming one of the top rebounders in the country, but the professional game developed him as a perimeter shooter and allowed him to evolve as a playmaker as well. While he will have to balance minutes with fellow bigs Kevin Jones and Caleb Wesson, McGrew has the potential to be the X-factor for this team. Traditional bigs have thrived in TBT in the past, think Daniel Amigo last year in Charleston, and McGrew brings that strength to the table while also being a floor stretcher and high post facilitator.
-Played three seasons for Ohio State averaging 12.9 points, 7 rebounds, 38.5% from 3
-Played 11 games in the G League for the Warriors but most recently played for Maccabi Rishon in Israel averaging 8.9 points per game
Wesson is yet another big that can space the floor for Best Virginia. With the longest wingspan on the team, he’ll be tasked with defending the rim and controlling the glass on both ends of the floor. He runs well for his size, and similar to McGrew, is a capable facilitator for a forward. The former NBA draft prospect should pencil in as a starter right away, but again, the forward depth head coach James Long has to choose from is a good problem to have.
-Juwan Staten-6’1-point guard
-Played at both Dayton and West Virginia averaging 12.1 points and 4.8 assists.
-Played briefly for the Celtics in the G League but has transitioned to coaching as a grad assistant at WVU and recently accepted a coaching position at Flyght academy prep in Ohio.
Averaging 5 points per game in last year’s tournament for Best Virginia, Staten continues to be a tempo setter at age 30. Still one of the quickest players on the floor, Staten is a break starter and will be tasked with possibly his biggest role ever in his 3 years representing the WVU alumni. While there are many ball handlers and capable facilitators on the roster, Staten is the only traditional point guard. Look for Staten in a lot of pick and roll situations with McGrew, Wesson, and Jones with a whole army of spot-up shooters surrounding his dribble penetration.
-Played 2 seasons for WVU averaging 9.7 points per game.
-Played in the G League for the Celtics averaging13.6 points per game in the 2021-22 season, played last for Indios de Mayaguez in Puerto Rico averaging 14 points, 3.2 assists
Paige will also shoulder some of the load at point guard, having developed as a playmaker since college. Paige will also be Best Virginia’s top guard to go to in isolation. His key to success, however, will be efficiency. Paige shot just 30% from 3 and 40% from the field his last year in the G League. Always a volume shooter, if Paige can find his shooting touch early, he becomes one of the many cogs in this offense that could be unstoppable when firing on all cylinders.
-Jamel Morris-6’4-shooting guard
-Played for both Glenville State and Fairmont State averaging 16.4 points
-Played 2 games for the Pistons in the summer league, and played most recently for Syntainics MBC in Germany averaging 16.6 points shooting 45% from 3.
Morris was a welcomed addition to the squad last year becoming the first non-WVU grad to represent Best Virginia. Yet another elite floor spacer, Morris works remarkably comfortably both on and off the ball. He also has the length to combat a variety of different positions defensively. He may also see a role increase as a ball-handler this year.
-played 142 games at WVU averaging 5 points
-Played for Boulazac Dordogne in France last season averaging 13.5 points.
Flowers really blossomed as a player in the professional ranks averaging double figures every year he’s been a pro in 5 different countries. J Flow is another classic 3 and D wing but can also create his own shot. He and Hunter seem to me to be the only 2 pure small forwards so both will be tasked defensively with limiting opposing teams best bigs. Flowers averaged 11 points per game last tournament.
-played 2 seasons at WVU averaging 11.2 points, 7.9 rebounds per game.
-played 63 games in the NBA for the Lakers averaging 3.6 points per game, most recently averaging 13.1 points per game for Iraklis in Greece, and is currently signed for Al Manama in Bahrain.
At age 32, Ebanks has developed a crafty bag around the rim and is more than capable in pick and roll situations. He’s capable from beyond the arc as well but will definitely be Best Virginia’s most paint-centric player.
-played 139 games for WVU averaging 13.1 points, 7.5 rebounds per game.
-played 32 games for the Cavaliers averaging 3 points per game. Played for The Hitachi Sun Rockers and Toyota Alvark in Japan averaging over 15 points per game for each.
Now is not the time for me to rant that KJ would’ve had a very successful NBA career had he been born 5 years later (I write totally unbiasedly about one of my favorite all-time Mountaineers) but he has also had a very lengthy successful pro career. Coming off a season shooting 46% from 3, Jones continues to add to the list of floor spacers at Best Virginia’s disposal. He should also be utilized in iso situations inside and outside the paint. Averaging 15 points per game last tournament, Jones should also be the odds-on favorite to lead the squad in scoring
1) Staten, Morris, Flowers, Jones, Wesson
This seems to me to be the most likely starting 5. It yields to a lot of dribble penetration from Staten with 4 well above average shooters around him and allows Jones enough spacing to be able to isolate and get to his mid-range game. Paige
would be the 6th man here, fitting for the former Big 12 6th man of the year. Defensively, Morris and Flowers flank Staten on the wings providing plenty of ball pressure, Jones may be exploited at the 4 against teams who elect to go smaller but he and Wesson will both be able to defend the paint.
2) Staten, Paige, Ebanks, Jones, Wesson
This lineup is more offensive-focused. Still great shooting but more room for iso ball with Paige, Ebanks, and Jones, and pick and Roll play with Wesson and Jones as screeners. In this lineup it would be Morris first off the bench pushing Paige to the point guard spot. Again, the primary ball handler behind Staten remains, to me, the biggest mystery of this team.
3) Paige, Morris, Flowers, Haley, Jones
I don’t expect Haley to start but this is a potential lineup where he could. This lineup is more on the smaller quicker side if Best Virginia struggles against smaller lineups. Hunter would also feature heavily in this situation, but I chose Haley because I believe him to be one of the better facilitators to take Staten’s place if he’s not in the lineup.
4) Paige, Flowers, Ebanks, Mcgrew, Wesson
This is the opposite of the last lineup. Best Virginia may also have success having much more size and length than any other team in the Charleston regional. Mcgrew, in this case, is the secondary playmaker. Best Virginia would have 6’2, 6’8, 6’9, 6’8, and 6’10 with this lineup with the potential to play zone which is not often seen at the TBT.
The bottom line, Best Virginia has many options and depth at every position. They have ample shooting but don’t sacrifice rebounding, or rim protection to get it, and have multiple players who can defend multiple positions. It’s no wonder they’re the top seed in this year’s regional, but still have a lot to prove and accomplish to achieve the million-dollar payday. Play-by-play coverage of every game at the TBT Charleston regional can be found on the WV Metronews website beginning July 24th.