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With Konate returning, West Virginia gears up for a national title run



Photo via Sporting News

As has already been announced, the Mountaineers received big news today as sophomore big man Sagaba Konate has decided to return to Morgantown. With his return to the team, this now solidifies the Mountaineers chance at a national title run.

Yes, you read that correctly, not Big 12 title run, but a national title run and I’ll tell you why.

The 2018-19 squad that head coach Bob Huggins has assembled is very easily the most talented team he’s pieced together during his time in Morgantown. That Final Four team in 2010 had some great players on it, but I don’t believe that team was as nearly deep at every spot on the floor as this team will be.

This upcoming years group will have a prefect blend of youth and veteran presence. Huggins returns three starters from last years lineup (Esa Ahmad, Wesley Harris and Sagaba Konate). Sophomore wing-man Lamont West could even be included as a fourth starter considering he started for much of the year due to Esa Ahmad’s suspension.

Outside of those four experienced players, sophomore guard James “Beetle” Bolden and Chase Harler who both look to try and fill the void left behind from Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr.

Now, of course, I won’t go as far as saying they will pick up right where those guys left off, but I don’t think it will be as much as a drop off as some may think. Bolden will likely move into a starting role and Harler will definitely be competing for that other guard spot.

After only playing two seasons at West Virginia, Bolden currently holds the record for three-point field goal percentage at 41.7%. He can absolutely stroke it from deep, but his defense is what really improved from year one to year two and I would expect him to really breakthrough in 2018-19. Also returning, but playing for the first time is redshirt freshman, Brandon Knapper. Knapper, originally committed to the Mountaineers before going to prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in 2016. He is what you would call a “pure” point guard and can shoot the lights out of the gym. Expect him to contribute early if healthy.

Now we get to the new faces of the program.

Coach Huggins added six new players to the program including two junior college guys in forward Andrew Gordon (6’10” 235 lbs) and guard Jermaine Haley (6’7″ 185 lbs). Adding these two guys brings collegiate experience to the table and much needed length that perfectly fits the “Press Virginia” style of basketball.

Haley, is a former five star recruit that can see the entirety of the court with his 6’7″ frame. This is a type of guard that Bob Huggins has never had and will be dangerous if he becomes a really solid defender. Gordon reminds me a lot of Elijah Macon, but just a tad more athletic. He will add much needed depth the front court, something that was a glaring hole a year ago when Konate got in foul trouble.

Huggins will try and replace the likes of Carter and Miles with incoming freshman Jordan McCabe (5’10″155 lbs) and Trey Doomes (6’3″ 185 lbs). McCabe is a flashy recruit that has already caught Mountaineer Nation by storm with his unbelievable ball handling skills in highlights, but he is a great three point threat also. As for Doomes, he is an extremely athletic guard that has a lot of bounce in him. Defense comes easy to him and I would look to him to be the next version of a Jevon Carter, that junkyard dog mentality, as ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla would say. Forward Derek Culver (6’10” 225) is going to be an intrical part of the teams future. He has that Kenyon Martin type of body frame. Very long and can be a force on the defensive end and on the glass. Rounding out the new guys is the last player to sign, forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (6’7″ 185 lbs), he is a versatile guy that can play both guard and wing, but I expect to see him more on the wing shadowing Esa Ahmad throughout the year.

This is clearly the most talent we have seen on a given roster. Assistant coach Erik Martin said, “I believe we have the most talented team since we’ve been here and I don’t think it’s even close. We’ve been to our share of Sweet Sixteen’s but it’s about time to go to that next level.”

Obviously, I completely agree with Martin. The team has a ton of returning experience and now has the most length it has ever seen. If you are going to run a pressure defense, having length helps not only on ball, but off the ball as well. Denying passes, blocking passing lanes and it makes it more challenging to get the ball in-bounded and up the court within 10 seconds. It will be year four for Esa Ahmad who we are awaiting a breakout season from and one would think it is going to happen this year as he takes on a leadership role. You bring back the best shot blocker in the country, the best three point shooter in the history of West Virginia basketball, virtually four starters, and so much length that Huggins could throw out a lineup with no one under 6’7″.

The 2018-19 season may or may not end in a national championship, but the Mountaineers will surely be in contention. This season will be a special one to remember and could really build up for what could be a magical 2019-20 season only losing one (Esa Ahmad) to graduation.

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