By Kyle Caron
This is the first of a 10-day series counting down the top 10 college basketball teams in the country. For my breakdown of the top 6 power conferences, click here.
#10 West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Year: 28-9 (12-6 Big 12) Sweet Sixteen
West Virginia is one of the best teams in college ball year in and year out. Since Bob Huggins arrived in Morgantown ten years ago, the Mountaineers have seen eight NCAA tournament appearances and their first Final Four since 1959. Last year we saw their season come to an end in the Sweet Sixteen with a stinging loss to eventual runner-up Gonzaga. This year’s team looks to redeem themselves with almost the entire roster consisting of returning players. However there were significant losses from last season’s roster as well.
Nathan Adrian and Tarik Phillips were lost to graduation. Both players averaged the most playing time behind Carter, as well as the third and fourth most PPG respectively. While Adrian’s absence at guard will be filled by Daxter Miles Jr. and RS Sophomore James Bolden, the loss of Phillips will be felt much more. There is little experience in the frontcourt for this team. There are multiple players who will get minutes inside such as up and comer Sagaba Konate, but most are still underclassmen.
Elija Macon left voluntarily to declare early for the NBA Draft. Despite going undrafted, this young guard proved to be an asset in his Sophomore season. He averaged 6.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and had the highest Field Goal Percentage out of the entire backcourt at .553.
There are few newcomers to this West Virginia team. The most exciting freshman prospect Brandon Knapper is out with a medical redshirt this season after a knee injury. JuCo transfer D’Angelo Hunter will provide some support off the bench but is still unproven in games of Big 12 caliber. Overall there is no game changer that will have an immediate impact for the team. But with experienced guards controlling the floor, that is not too big of an issue for now.
This team is in a tier of its own in the Big 12. Kansas is clearly the frontrunner to win the league having won it the last thirteen years.
But don’t forget that WVU has finished second in the conference the last two years as well. If there were to be a year where someone dethrones the Jayhawks as kings of the conference, I would bet this is it.
The key to this team’s success will be guard play. That is where they are most experienced and that is where the momentum will come from. Jevon Carter is widely regarded as a First Team All-American and rightfully so. With other experienced guards surrounding him in Miles Jr. and Esa Ahmad, this could easily be one of the best backcourts in the country. The weak point of this team is in its big men. Not because they are bad, but because they are young and unproven. However if players such as Konate and Lamont West can mature quickly and make their presence known, expect this team to make another deep run into March.
Think they should be higher? Lower? Let’s hear it, comment below!