A simple lesson regarding the WVU basketball program
The lesson is a simple one; trust in Bob Huggins.
The rest of the lineup of Big 12 coaches certainly do.
West Virginia has dealt with off-season departures, injuries and suspensions to players that were expected to fill valuable minutes on the floor this season.
That still didn’t stop Huggins and his Mountaineers from being tabbed as the second best team in a deep and talented Big 12 Conference by his coaching peers in the league’s pre-season poll.
The Mountaineers are perched with 71 points behind only Kansas, who is expected to claim its 14th consecutive regular season conference crown. West Virginia was the only team other than the Jayhawks to receive a first place vote, although the coaches aren’t permitted to vote for their own club.
West Virginia will be without junior forward Esa Ahmad for the first 16 games of the season, Elijah Macon elected to forego his final year of college basketball to pursue a pro career and true freshman point guard Brandon Knapper won’t play this season due to a knee injury.
All of that on top of losing one of the most valuable pieces to the club on both ends in Nathan Adrian to graduation as well as two more scholarship seniors.
But after Huggins famously claimed he’d fix it – there’s no arguing he has accomplished that.
The Mountaineers have made the NCAA tournament the past three years after consecutive seasons of not dancing, including a pair of trips to the Sweet 16. The program has finished second in the Big 12 Conference in back-to-back campaigns and will look to make a run at a third this year.
Roster turnover and lower-rated recruiting classes be damned. Huggins has found a formula that has transformed his program with a relentless pressure style defense and toughness.
A brand of basketball that has garnered the respect of his fellow coaches as the basketball program has elevated itself to one of the premier in the league over the past couple seasons.
But while sitting in second isn’t a bad thing – that certainly isn’t the goal. The Mountaineers have been close to dethroning the Jayhawks but never close enough and behind the program in the standings are some talented clubs.
There is no denying this won’t be easy to maintain the status quo, even with the return of arguably one of the most complete guards in the nation in senior Jevon Carter. Daxter Miles, also a senior, will help to provide the experienced backcourt it often takes to navigate through a season with success as well.
And it doesn’t just end in the league, as West Virginia was placed at the No. 10 spot nationally in the opening coaches poll even drawing the surprise of Huggins.
While West Virginia will be counting on a number of new faces and underclassmen to help carry the load for this year’s club, is anybody really going to bet against Huggins?