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West Virginia Mountaineers, college basketball, Bob Huggins

West Virginia Mountaineers: Three story lines for the college basketball season

In 37 seasons, Bob Huggins has won 860 games. He will be a hall of famer. That makes last season much more of an aberration. West Virginia was a dumpster fire train wreck, finishing 15-21. The Mountaineers started last season missing the best guard in school history (Jevon Carter), had two starters dismissed and another (low post force Sagaba Konate) play only eight games because of injury.

West Virginia will probably not finish in the cellar again. The Mountaineers return four starters from a team that finished strong and adds a five-star recruit. Huggins admits that last season he “let some things go” that ultimately led to divisiveness.

“I’m not going to do that again,” he said. “I think we’re going to be pretty good. These guys have great camaraderie. They want to be coached.”

Top 3 story lines

Size matters in Morgantown. Outside of Kansas, West Virginia has the best group of low-post players in the Big 12. Sophomore Derek Culver was one of the few bright spots last season, averaging 11.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9 freshman with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, is a five-star recruit and just the second McDonald’s All-American in school history. Former walk on Logan Rout, a 6-11 senior, is a banger who is a perfect fit coming off the bench.

White chocolate 2.0. Jordan McCabe became a mixtape sensation as a youngster and he was hyped as the Next White Chocolate, following Jason Williams. As a freshman, McCabe created a slow burn and improved as the season went on. Over his last 10 games, he averaged 13 points, three rebounds, five assists, and nearly two steals per game while shooting 38% from 3. If he builds on that and improves this season, WVU has its point guard.

Settling on a style. With three talented players who can play the low post and a group of inexperienced guards, how will the Mountaineers play? They don’t appear to have the junkyard dogs for full-court pressure, but they can certainly be nasty playing half-court defense with their length. WVU has had problems scoring in half-court sets which means figuring out the right lineups to make the offense flow will be important.

Number to know

West Virginia had 525 offensive rebounds to lead Division I for the second consecutive season. That’s a good news/bad news number. The Mountaineers are beasts on the boards but there’s a lot of opportunities because they miss a lot of shots (last in the Big 12 in shooting percentage).

Reasons to hope

West Virginia scuffled in its first two seasons in the Big 12 and then Huggins adjusted, developing “Press Virginia.” That produced four consecutive NCAA Tournament bids and three Sweet 16s. Making the NCAA bracket is probably a stretch but Huggins knows what he’s doing and will bounce back from a 21-loss season.

Reasons to doubt

Huggins’ roster has plenty of guards but none of them are proven, season-long producers. The theory of throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and hope something sticks needs to pan out for the Mountaineers to improve their shooting and ball handling.

KenPom.com preseason rank: 59.

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