MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Can a team without a true go-to guy make a deep run in postseason play? West Virginia coach Bob Huggins thinks so.
That line of thinking may go against conventional wisdom, particularly when you think back to some of Huggins’ best teams at West Virginia in 2008, 2010 and 2015.
In ’08 when the games got tight, Huggins could draw up something close to the basket for Joe Alexander, and the athletic, 6-foot-8 forward usually delivered.
In 2010, it was Da’Sean Butler who always had the ball in his hands during crunch time. In 2015, it was blossoming sophomore forward Devin Williams who came on at the end of the season to become a scoring force close to the goal.
Is it Jevon Carter
, who yesterday was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team?
Is it Daxter Miles, Jr., coming off one of the best performances of his career in a critical home win last Friday night against Iowa State?
Is it Nathan Adrian
, an All-Big 12 third-team choice who has had some terrific games this season?
The answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
“Our guys are pretty good at going to the guy that has the hot hand,” Huggins said earlier today on his weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “It’s not always JC (Jevon Carter
). It could be Daxter Miles at times, Tarik Phillip
at times or Nate Adrian at times, which honestly, I think is good for us.”
It’s good because teams can’t just lock down on certain playmakers at the end of games the way teams can against, say, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley, or Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris, or even Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans.
That’s probably one of the big reasons why Kansas has been so good for so long.
Take Frank Mason III out of the game and Josh Jackson beats you. Take away Mason and Jackson and then there is Devonte’ Graham out on the wing who can beat you.
Having different guys step up at critical moments during games throughout the season is a luxury not many teams have going into postseason play.
Now, are Carter, Miles, Adrian, Phillip and Ahmad in the same class as Mason, Jackson and Graham?
They certainly were in Morgantown on January 24. It looked that way, too, in Lawrence for about 39 minutes of regulation.
It’s always nice having a late-game, marquee player to get the ball to in postseason play, but it’s also nice having some different options, particularly when coaches take away your good players. Because coaches these days can take away your best player, it’s the teams that can come up with different answers during crunch time that are the ones who will survive and advance.
For that reason, good regular-season teams are not always good postseason teams in a one-and-done deal.
“I think the biggest difference is the finality (of postseason play),” Huggins admitted. “You can’t say, ‘Okay, on to the next game’ because there aren’t any.”
Mason was named this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year, and you won’t get any arguments from Huggins, even though Mason struggled at times during his career against West Virginia, particularly in games played in Morgantown.
“He makes big shots,” Huggins said of Mason. “He’s continually in attack mode. You can’t ever relax because he’s going to get to the rim.”
What Huggins appreciates most about Mason is how hard he has worked to develop his overall game. Mason is a much different player today than he was as a freshman.
“I think the improvement he’s made from year three to year four, but from year one to year four, is phenomenal,” Huggins said. “Obviously, it took a lot of work so he had to put an enormous amount of time in the gym. It’s good to see somebody who works that hard get the accolades that he deserves.”
Another extremely hard worker, Jevon Carter
, is beginning to get some accolades as well.
Carter was named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year, and his strong February boosted him to All-Big 12 Second Team status in perhaps the best guard league in the country this year.
This year’s first team was comprised of four guards - Morris, Mason III, Jackson and Evans - while the second team was also made up of four guards - Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Devonte’ Graham, Jeffrey Carroll and Carter.
That’s eight of the top 10 players in the Big 12 this year coming from the backcourt.
“I kept watching game film and you keep seeing our expert analysts who do our games put up their five top five point guards in the league and our guy is never in there,” Huggins said. “If Jevon Carter
is not the top five in any league in America, I mean it’s one heck of a league.
“And it’s hard to argue with the five they put up there because the five they put up there are really good,” Huggins added.
Carter is probably a little underrated as a scorer, shooter, playmaker and ball handler, but he is certainly not an underrated defender.
“He’s got exceptional lateral quickness, but his work ethic and his competitiveness are second to none,” Huggins said. “He puts an enormous amount of time in the gym and in the weight room making sure he’s prepared to go.”
A 1-1 week last week has the Mountaineers down one spot to No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press men’s basketball rankings with one more poll to go next week.
The AP does not issue an end-of-season poll like the coaches do.
This marks the 34th consecutive week West Virginia has been nationally ranked and the 50th out of the last 53 weeks - the longest stretch in the national polls since the Hot Rod Hundley-Jerry West era from 1956-1960, when the Mountaineers were ranked 56 straight weeks.
And finally, here is an amazing fact to chew on - this year the Mountaineers have had a second-half lead in every game and did not lose a regular season game by a double-digit margin for the first time in 56 years.
That’s simply amazing.
Put another way, these guys have been in every single basketball game this year! And that's the definition of a dangerous postseason team, in my book.
The Mountaineers will work out in Morgantown today and take a charter flight out to Kansas City to begin on-site preparation for Thursday evening’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship quarterfinal round game against either Texas Tech or Texas.
Be sure to stick with us for updates all week long out in Kansas City, including our daily reports with Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs, presented by United Bank.