West Virginia men’s basketball team has plenty of potential, but new faces need to learn system

MORGANTOWN — Whether it comes from recruiting rankings, the eye test or simply from our own expectations, there is a certain level of potential surrounding West Virginia’s cast of first-year basketball players.

Jermaine Haley’s 6-foot-7 frame makes him an interesting point guard.

Jordan McCabe’s passing skills also makes him an interesting point guard.

Derek Culver’s four-star ranking in high school and athletic 6-foot-10 frame makes him a candidate to thrive in the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure.

“In our line of work, ‘potential’ is a really dangerous word,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins warned. “Everybody expects more out of you sometimes than what you’re capable of doing.”

That was Huggins the day before the Mountaineers fell to Penn State in Saturday’s exhibition game at the WVU Coliseum, 84-82.

His thoughts on his new players didn’t change after the game.

“We have so many new guys that think they’ve arrived, and they haven’t,” Huggins said.

Whether or not the Mountaineers, who host Buffalo at 9 p.m. Friday in the regular-season opener, are actually the 13th-best team in the country right now, as the AP preseason rankings proclaim, wasn’t the main concern coming out of the exhibition loss.

Instead, the focus shifted directly to a class of first-year players that includes one redshirt freshman, four true freshmen and two junior-college transfers, many of whom will have to play major minutes for the Mountaineers this season.

At this point, that could be a difficult proposition.

Against the Nittany Lions, Culver and fellow freshman Trey Doomes didn’t see any action. Culver, Huggins said, didn’t play, because he wasn’t doing the right things in practice, while Huggins added he couldn’t find a good time to insert Doomes into action.

With James “Beetle” Bolden sitting out with an injured hand, Haley, McCabe and Brandon Knappper rotated at point guard and combined to shoot 5 of 13 from the floor and added six turnovers against six assists.

“We told our point guards, ‘Don’t turn your back. Their guy is really, really good at picking you,’ ” Huggins said. “Our guy turned his back twice. He turned his back more than twice, but he got picked twice for lay-ups. Those are crucial.

“I told them, “Don’t throw bounce passes.’ They threw bounce passes. That’s what they’re used to doing, but it’s not high school anymore.”

Freshman forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. played nine minutes and shot 0 for 2 from the floor.

Andrew Gordon, a junior-college transfer who is dealing with a sore knee, had two rebounds and a blocked shot in five minutes.

Collectively, it wasn’t the type of group effort WVU coaches wanted to see from their new players.

And it wasn’t the best effort, either, from West Virginia’s returning players.

Huggins said he needed better rebounding from Esa Ahmad, who grabbed seven boards, as well as needing more production from Wes Harris and Lamont West, who combined for 12 points and five rebounds.

“Two weeks ago, we started going 25 minutes to start practice was just rebounding,” Huggins said. “I knew we were really bad at it. I must not have done the right thing. We’ve got to get better at it, and we will. We’ve been one of the premiere rebounding leagues, not just in the [Big 12], but the whole country.”

Huggins said he did not run many sets and kept his offensive plan “vanilla,” but even something as simple as running his staple motion offense became a chore against Penn State.

“We were supposed to be running motion,” Huggins said. “If you watched the way [Da’Sean] Butler and Wellington Smith and those guys run what these clowns were supposed to be running today, you’d say it wasn’t the same thing. We’re not very good at it.”

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