Have you ever been less interested in a WVU basketball game than today’s 2PM game at Baylor? For the first time in over 15 years, I will not plan my weekend around a Saturday WVU basketball game. Looking for reasons to watch is a struggle, but I’ve identified a few splashes of excitement that will make an otherwise uninteresting game watchable. There are actually plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of WVU basketball.
Defensive effort will be a real focus for Bob Huggins for the remainder of the season. Players that don’t play hard and don’t play defense will not be back next year. This will lead to increased effort and hustle on the defensive end. Players will literally be fighting for their spots on next year’s roster and the easiest way to earn it will be to get your ass on the ground when there is a loose ball and don’t let your guy breathe. Take note Lamont West, Jordan McCabe, Brandon Knapper, Chase Harler, Logan Routt, Andrew Gordon, Trey Doomes. Play defense like your life depends on it because it does. If you don’t give the effort that Huggins demands, he will find someone else that will take your place.
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Derek Culver is the future of West Virginia basketball for at least the next two years. He is a tremendous asset and the kind of outstanding talent that Bob Huggins can build around. His physicality and rebounding ability is unmatched by anyone on the Baylor roster and perhaps the entire Big 12, but the issue for Derek Culver this year is that teams are now double-teaming him and making it difficult for him to produce offensively. With few other options offensively for WVU, Culver has become the go-to player. His offensive game (particularly his post game) is unpolished and he simply is not ready to be the lead scorer on a team yet. And yet he is the absolute focus defensively for other teams. He is largely negated aside from his offensive rebounds/put backs which can not be controlled by anyone in the Big 12. Culver is averaging 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game against Big 12 competition. With a little polish and additional help on offense, he could potentially be a first team all conference player next year. His outstanding Freshman year is only the beginning for Derek Culver. Pairing him with Oscar Tshiebwe next year is a truly thrilling prospect.
Emmitt Matthews, Jr.
I may be in the minority here, but I feel that Matthews has the length and athleticism that makes him an ideal 3 in Huggins’ system. He will be the perfect player at the top of the press should Huggins decide to go back to “Press Virginia” next year. His length, athleticism and proclivity to not make stupid mistakes (turnovers are an inevitable part of any Freshman’s learning curve, particularly when trying to create with limited minutes) will make him the starting small forward for the next three years. Plug him next to Culver/Tshiebwe and WVU has one of the best young front courts in the Big 12. His season stats certainly don’t suggest all of this praise, but he has flashed real brilliance when given an opportunity in recent games.
Emmitt Matthews, Jr.
Potential to Upset Baylor
Huggins loves Baylor’s Sophomore Mark Vital and this might be the type of player that he recruits in the future. Vital averages 6 points and 6 rebounds a game, but what he does isn’t reflected in the stats. He plays hard, he doesn’t take any plays off and he doesn’t make many mistakes. Beating Baylor, currently sitting in 5th place in the Big 12 (17-9 overall and 8-5), would be a huge upset for WVU. Any remaining game on the schedule is an opportunity to build momentum and gain experience for next year’s team. A difficult Big 12 game on the road is a perfect opportunity to stockpile confidence for young players going into next season.
Baylor’s Mark Vital
This is an interesting and exciting time for WVU Basketball. Young players like Culver, Knapper, McCabe, Matthews, Doomes have only begun to scratch the surface of their potential. Although the result of this game will not ultimately alter the fate of this incredibly disappointing season, and will likely not end in a win, watching the maturation and evolution of the future of West Virginia basketball is why I’ll be watching today.