The Big East-Big 12 Battle is heading into its fourth season in 2022. It kicked off in 2019, when the Big East enjoyed a dominant 8-2 margin in 10 games; even Georgetown and DePaul won that year! Since, the conferences have split 8-8 and tied overall both years. Perhaps the best part of the whole thing is that Xavier has never once been drawn to play Wisconsin.
West Virginia is Xavier’s opponent this year, marking the second event - along with the Phil Knight Invitational - that has both teams in the pool. It’s distinctly unlikely but certainly not impossible that the teams meet in that event; they are almost guaranteed to meet in this one. As such, you’ll likely recognize portions of this post as having been recycled from that one. Nothing meaningful has changed between the 18th and today in terms of the Mountaineers.
Bob Huggins is at the head of the WVa program right now. He is more or less living proof that almost any reputation short of Oscar Pistorius’s can be rehabilitated. He got canned from UC for a lack of discipline within the program and a lack of sobriety during a traffic stop in 2004 and generally had a reputation as a bit of loon. Now he’s “Huggy Bear”, the loveable curmudgeon stalking the sidelines and still occasionally going off on a player, official, or opposing coach.
Anyway, his signature piece of strategy is a press that forces a ton of turnovers. They’ve finished 8 of the last 10 seasons in the top 30 in TO%, but they commit a ton of fouls and don’t protect the glass very well. Their offense is usually largely predicated on creating turnovers and getting easy buckets. They get to the line and the glass a lot, but they usually can’t shoot for beans; you’ve gotta go back almost 2 decades to find a Huggins team that finished in the top 100 in EFG%. It’s incredibly remarkable that one coach could go that long without unlocking anything resembling attractive or even effective offense and not be fired.
West Virginia only had two dudes score in double figures last year, and neither of them returns to the team this season. Taz Sherman was a guard who averaged 17.7 PPG last year, but he decided to go get paid to play and has done exactly that. Wing/gunner Sean McNeil - late of Sinclair Community College - has gone from the Big 12 to the Big Ten (which is somehow larger), abandoning the hills of West Virginia for whatever the most notable geographic feature of Ohio State’s campus is. The Olentangy River, I guess. Malik Curry (9.7 PPG) has run out of eligibility and Jalen Bridges (8.4 and 4.8) transferred to Baylor. These departing guys represent everyone who scored more than 6 PPG for West Virginia last year. To add insult to injury, leading rebounder Gabe Osabuohien hired an agent and entered the NBA draft.
Guard Kedrian Johnson! He averaged 5.3/2.2/1.7 plus 1.6 steals per game on a 92.7 ORtg. That’s not a horrible number for your best defender and fifth option on offense, but it’s suboptimal for your top returning scorer. The next leading scorer is guard Seth Wilson; he had 37 points the entire season.
Losing all that is going to leave West Virginia with some holes to fill, and they’re expecting a big transfer class to help with that. Tops on that list is Tre Mitchell, a 6’9”, 220-pound big man who spent two years crushing at UMass before posting 9 and 4 at Texas last season. Guard Emmitt Matthews, Jr. dropped 12 PPG at Washington last year on .434/.336/.755 shooting; he’ll coming over to step into the backcourt. Joining him as guards are Joe Toussaint, who distributes well and proved himself a ball-hawking defender at Iowa last year, and Erik Stevenson, who went for 11.6/4.7/2.8 as a volume scorer as a South Carolina Gamecock. JuCo big men Pat Suemnick and Mohamed Wague join three-star recruits Josiah Harris - a power forward out of Cleveland - and Josiah Davis - a guard from Teays Valley Christian School - to round out the newcomers.
There’s a legitimate chance that nobody in the starting five this year was on the team last year. Basically nobody of any import returns, and Huggins will be relying on a large crop of new guys to provide him with some semblance of a rotation as he pieces them together on the fly. It’s tough to execute a scheme with a bunch of dudes who just met in the summer, but that’s the challenge for West Virginia this year. Gun to my head, I’d reckon they’ll be a lot closer to KenPom’s #73 than Torvik’s #30 when they take on the Muskies in December.