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2014-15 West Virginia Basketball: Ready to Surprise

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West Virginia is picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 pre-season poll, but head coach Bob Huggins hopes that the Mountaineers could be the surprise of the conference.

WVU lost three of their top five scorers, but First-Team All-Big 12 guard Juwan Staten returns for his senior season. The electric Staten is joined by a core group of newcomers and several more mature teammates from last season.

Junior college transfer guard Jaysean Paige scored 21.4 points for Moberly Area Community College last season, hitting at a remarkable 44.6 percent clip from beyond-the-arc. The Mountaineers are counting on Paige to make up for the loss of Eron Harris, who transferred to Michigan State after leading WVU in 3-point shooting last season.

Junior forward Jonathan Holton and redshirt freshman Elijah Macon will make their debuts for the gold and blue. Both were ineligible last season, but have a year of practicing and learning the plays under their belts. Holton comes to Morgantown from Palm Beach Junior College after averaging 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and earning a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12.

Freshman guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles should play right away and make an impact for the Mountaineers.

Despite the impressive new blood, Staten remains the key to WVU’s success.

He averaged 18.1 points per game as a junior and was a first-team All-Big 12 defense selection. The former Dayton star led the Atlantic 10 in assists as a freshman before transferring to West Virginia and establishing himself as a fan favorite and one of the best in the Big 12.

Huggins enters his eighth season as the Mountaineers’ head coach and is the third-winningest active coach in the NCAA with 740 wins in 33 seasons.

The many departures and on-court struggles over the last three seasons have tested the veteran coach, but the fiery Huggins may have the 2014-15 Mountaineers poised to be WVU’s most talented team since the 2010 Big East Champions, who went to the Final Four.

“I am pretty sure that this group is so much more like that group that went to the Final Four,” said Huggins. “The Final Four by the way is again in Indianapolis.”

Much like the Final Four team, the Mountaineers are going to be a front court-oriented team. Expect big men Devin Williams, Nathan Adrian, Kevin Noreen and Brandon Watkins to be much bigger contributors this season.

Both Watkins and Williams showed much potential at times last season, and Williams is more agile this year. The 6-9 sophomore stepped up his conditioning over the offseason, which was evident during the Gold and Blue scrimmage. Williams, who sought treatment for his asthma over the summer, was moving much faster up and down the court after struggling to get back on defense last year.

“He’s getting there,” Huggins said. “He just needs to protect the ball better. He’s got those big, wide shoulders. He’s just got to learn to use those better.”

West Virginia Gary BrowneOne weakness for the Mountaineers will be the fact that they are without an elite shot blocker. This could prevent them from spreading defensive pressure.

2014-15 WEST VIRGINI BASKETBALL
Head Coach: Bob Huggins, 8th season at WVU (33rd overall), 150–91 at WVU (739–303 overall)
Last Season: 17-16, 9-9
Projected Starters: Juwan Staten, Gary Browne, Nathan Adrian, Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton
Key Non-Conference Games: Puerto Rico Tip-Off 11/20-23), LSU (12/4), NC State (12/20), Virginia Tech (12/30)

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