After a season filled with upheaval and uncertainty, West Virginia is eagerly anticipating the start of actual games.
The Mountaineers, who emerged as one of the biggest winners of the off-season in the transfer portal, have been ranked ninth in the Big 12 by the league’s preseason media poll. At this point, it’s difficult to determine whether those in the program should feel disrespected by this ranking, considering the numerous unanswered questions that remain.
Nevertheless, this ranking can be used as a source of motivation. Although it’s not as low as the football team’s ranking in July, which placed them dead last, it still positions the basketball team in the bottom half of the 14-team league.
Yet, there are certainly questions to be addressed. The team bid farewell to Hall of Fame head coach Bob Huggins, who resigned after a DUI incident in June.
Josh Eilert, the interim coach, now has his first opportunity to lead a program alongside assistant coaches with limited experience. His coaching staff, consisting of DerMarr Johnson, Alex Ruoff, Da’Sean Butler, and Jordan McCabe, collectively possess only one year of assistant coaching experience at the collegiate level.
These circumstances alone invite speculation about what the team will look like on the court and may have influenced the media’s ranking of the Mountaineers.
Additionally, the roster, although talented, comprises mostly players who have never played together in a game before, creating another question mark.
Last season, West Virginia retained only four players who averaged a combined 9.4 points per game, accounting for a mere 12% of the team’s total production. These players include Seth Wilson, Kobe Johnson, Josiah Harris, and Patrick Suemnick. However, the team bolstered its roster through the transfer portal.
West Virginia secured transfers such as Syracuse center Jesse Edwards, Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa, Montana State guard RaeQuan Battle, Georgetown forward Akok Akok, St. John’s forward Quinn Slazinski, and several others, significantly improving their roster in response to the lost production.
However, one crucial factor remains uncertain: the eligibility status of RaeQuan Battle. The Mountaineers are still awaiting word on an immediate eligibility waiver that would allow him to compete this season.
Battle, a two-time transfer who began his career at Washington before moving to Montana State, has one year of eligibility remaining. In the previous season, he started all 35 games, averaging 17.7 points per game with shooting percentages of 46.9% overall and 35.3% from three-point range.
Having Battle would significantly impact the team’s dynamics, considering the makeup of the roster. He would naturally fit in at either the shooting guard or small forward position, depending on how Eilert configures the starting lineup.
The decision regarding Battle’s eligibility could ultimately have a major influence on the team’s placement in the standings. However, it is evident that, at this stage, expectations within the program do not match those outside of it. This discrepancy may prove to be advantageous for the team moving forward.
West Virginia also benefited from a favorable schedule. While there are certainly challenges, such as opening against Houston on the road, the team will not have to travel to face Kansas or Baylor. Additionally, out of the five teams that West Virginia plays twice, two of them, Cincinnati (11) and UCF (14), were ranked below them in the preseason poll.
Even the four away games are relatively favorable, apart from the trip to Houston. The other matchups include Oklahoma (12), Oklahoma State (10), and Iowa State (7).
This team will need to prove its worth, but there is potential for a surprise in the standings.
Laura Davis covers the world of basketball with precision. Her articles explore NBA and college basketball, offering game analysis, player profiles, and highlights. Laura’s passion for hoops is evident in her comprehensive basketball coverage.