MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins envisions using a 12-player rotation this season, and that could spell trouble for opponents trying to catch a break from West Virginia’s full-court press.
Joining five veterans who averaged at least 17 minutes per game are a solid recruiting class willing to jump into Huggins’ Press Virginia philosophy.
Huggins had as few as 11 available players for much of last season due to injury or suspension. That’s up to 15 this year.
“Our strength’s our numbers,” Huggins said. “We can throw a lot of people at them, I think.”
West Virginia also has bigger wingspans – nine players are 6-7 or taller, compared to six last year.
Coming off a 90-78 loss to Villanova in the East Region semifinals, the Mountaineers have to replace their backcourt after the graduations of leading scorer and two-time Big 12 defensive player of the year Jevon Carter along with second-leading scorer Daxter Miles Jr.
The scoring load now rests with forwards Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad. Konate averaged 10.8 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots a year ago. Ahmad sat out almost half of last season because of an NCAA academic suspension. He averaged 10.2 points.
The rest of the starting lineup could take some time to figure out. Guard James “Beetle” Bolden, the team’s best 3-point shooter, and forward Wes Harris will get their share of starts. The final spot could go to forward Lamont West or even freshman guard Jordan McCabe if he can quickly learn Huggins’ tenacious style of defense.
Among other recruits, Huggins said freshman Derek Culver could be one of the best defenders against ballhandlers he’s ever had, but Culver might have to back up Konate.
Here’s some other things to know about the Mountaineers as they go after a 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in Huggins’ 12 seasons:
Selfless act: Former walk-on Logan Routt was given a scholarship last season. The backup forward then was asked to relinquish it after Huggins signed six recruits this year that put West Virginia one over the NCAA scholarship limit of 13.
“Whatever I need to do to help the team win,” Routt said.
Dribbling prodigy: Before McCabe became a Huggins recruit, he was an internet sensation as a 12-year-old dribbling prodigy .
McCabe showed off his skills in 2011 on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and ESPN’s “First Take,” during a Harlem Globetrotters game and at the NBA all-star weekend in Los Angeles.
Flash forward to his senior year, McCabe was the Wisconsin high school player of the year and led Kaukauna High to a Division 2 state title.
It remains to be seen how McCabe’s talent will play out in college, especially on the defensive end.
“He’s going to give it his absolute best effort, I know that,” Huggins said. “The harder you work at it, the better you’re going to get at it. Jordan will work at it. Jordan will put the time in.”
McCabe’s connections: McCabe is given an assist with helping Huggins land his final recruit, Emmitt Matthews Jr., who signed with the Mountaineers in May after forward Teddy Allen decided to transfer.
McCabe and Matthews were childhood friends in Washington state before McCabe moved to Wisconsin. The 6-7 Matthews attended Woodrow Wilson High in Tacoma, Washington. He signed to play at UConn but was given a release after Huskies coach Kevin Ollie was fired in March.
“Jordan knows everybody,” Huggins said. “Jordan talked to him. The families were familiar with each other.”
Early injury: Bolden has been nursing a sore hand and missed the team’s Gold-Blue exhibition game.
The Mountaineers have several early tests, including the season opener at home Nov. 9 against Mid-American Conference champion Buffalo. West Virginia faces Florida in the Jimmy V Classic in New York City Dec. 4, hosts former Big East rival Pitt Dec. 8 and takes on Atlantic 10 champion Rhode Island Dec 16 in Uncasville, Connecticut.