As the West Virginia men’s basketball fall practice opened last week, head coach Bob Huggins noted that he hadn’t seen many of his team during his sessions. limited summer training with the coaching staff. The recruiting, as well as the summer fundraising circuit, had taken him on the road for long periods of time, as the assistants rotated through training supervision and their own recruiting duties.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Huggins doesn’t have a good grasp of his staff for the coming season, and how he will begin to assess how best to put them together and use their strongest attributes in a league that could be even more difficult than a year ago.
One thing is certain: the 2021-22 Mountaineers will be very different from what they were last season. With seven newcomers and a very different set of strengths, WVU will once again change the way it plays.
“We’re probably going to end up playing four-a-side, and we’re trying to spend a lot of time with the big guys to see if we can get one of them to score,” said Huggins, who starts off. his 40th season as a college head coach (900-382). “They bounce back and block shots, but with a little more work we can get them to score around the goal.”
While WVU has five players measuring 6ft 8in or taller, none are a traditional post scorer. Transfers Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap averaged 6.8 and 9.9 points per game for their previous teams a year ago, but as is often the case, Huggins is unsure if the level of the competition is that they produced is on par with what they will see in Big 12 play. Forwards Isaiah Cottrell and Jalen Bridges are perimeter players, who have not proven themselves in the post.
“(Isaiah) is 6 feet 10 or 6 feet 11 inches tall, and he can go out and shoot. He could be our third best shot, ”Huggins explained. “(Him) getting the big guys out of the way will really help us. “We’re going to play (Jalen) on the perimeter. Obviously, he can shoot it. His ball skills are much better and he worked on it. (We want him) to be able to score a little better after the rebound, and I want to see more if we can put him in a lag situation with a keeper and put him on the block.
Cottrell’s size and reach might help him when he leans inside, especially when lags are created, but he’s still a four-stretch, still envisioned as a player working off screens that he sets for others, although he thinks he can help on the inside as well.
“I’m still a pick and pop guy, a shift guy,” Cottrell said, evaluating his game. “I can face (against defenders) and miss them, and if I go to a smaller guy, i can shoot them down and post them. Most of the power forwards in the Big 12 are 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, and I played center for four years (in high school) before becoming a power striker last year. I’ve always been good at the job, and we’re working on this every day, so I think I can handle that.
Such a development will be critical if Carrigan or Paulicap are unable to score in some of the one-on-one situations Huggins envisions happening when the Mountaineers deploy shooters around the arc.
Inside is also Seny N’diaye, whose contributions will likely fall again in the areas of rebound and rim defense.
“Hopefully they can get a bounce or two,” Huggins said with an equal mix of tongue-in-cheek humor and hopefulness from his big guys. “We’re a lot smaller than what we’ve been in total, but we have two guys, Taz (Sherman) and Sean (McNeil), who can really take shots. (The defenses) are going to have to stick to them, because if they don’t, they’re going to shoot. It opens things up inside.
WVU has also played with a return to some pressure defense, but again, if that happens, it will be very different from the days of Press Virginia fueled by Jevon Carter / Daxter Miles. Huggins notes that he doesn’t see anyone close to this pair’s defensive ability on the ball (to be fair, we’re talking about the best defensive player in Mountaineer’s history and one who is probably in the Top 10-15. ), so if the press does appear it is much more likely to be of the zone variety, and probably not extended the full 94 feet nearly as often as in the past.
“The two most important guys are the guy with the ball, because you don’t want the guy with the ball to be able to look around and find open people, and obviously you have to protect the rim,” Huggins said of the front. and the back of the press. “The staff has a lot to do with it. Maybe we can wear people out and have this to our advantage, because we have enough guards, but it’s not JC (Jevon Carter) or Dax ‘(Miles).
As practice unfolds, WVU will have five fifth-year players to accompany two fourth-year juniors, and their experience should be of help as they try to adjust. However, Huggins cautions that they still have a few fundamentals to master.
“The way we play is very different from the way most people play, and the intensity with which we play is different. We are defending with a lot more effort and we will have to be even better than we have been, especially on the ball, ”said Huggins, who holds a 310-171 record in 14 seasons as his alma mater coach. “We’re not going to stay in a 2-3 zone. We can find ourselves in a bit of a 1-3-1, but it’s a learning experience for all. There is a big learning curve here. I couldn’t tell you just yet who our top eight or ten guys are right now. We will have enough people, but it will be a challenge. “