The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 8, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Top 25 return for WVU men’s basketball team?

MORGANTOWN — Scoff at this, if you must (and chances are you must), but it is a nugget I came across on the Internet the other day.

There is a writer by the name of Jason McIntyre who writes for a website known The Big Lead, and he decided there was no time like the present than to publish what he called “The 2014-15 College Basketball Top 25 (Very Early Edition).”

He noted that perhaps it might be a bit premature, noting that “the UConn parties aren’t even finished.”

But then, there’s really nothing else to write about — if you happen to reside in a cave somewhere deep in the Himalayas. Like the NFL draft, the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs, baseball … why not pick next year’s Top 25 in college basketball?

And so he went at it and here is what he offered. No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 North Carolina.

Not exactly daring.

He listed three of the Big 12 teams in his Top 25. Kansas was at No 6, Texas at No. 7 and then this … please, be seated when you read this:

“21. West Virginia (17-16, NIT Tournament) – Bob Huggins will have a nice squad in Morgantown next year, and he’ll get them to the NCAA Tournament. The biggest impact player is probably Jonathan Holton, a JUCO star who was on the team last year but the NCAA wouldn’t let him play. Elijah Macon was also with the team, but got injured, and then the NCAA prevented him from playing, too. You factor in Holton, Macon, returning players Juwan Staten (18.1 ppg) and you’ve got something to build on.The Mountaineers would have been even stronger if Eron Harris (17.2 ppg) hadn’t decided to transfer.”

A return to the Top 25 for West Virginia?

After what we’ve watched over the past two years, that seems to be like predicting that Joan Rivers will start dating Leonardo DiCaprio this year.

But, know what, it could happen because Huggins is going back to what he knows best – defense.

Know how I know that.

I had a spy at speech he gave last week in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Club.

Huggins was at his sarcastic best as he addressed the group.

“We weren’t very good last year, but we’re going to try something different,” Huggins said. “We’re going to guard people this year.”

He was being funny, yes … and serious.

If anything got to Huggins last year it was his team’s inability to guard people, especially the late departed Eron Harris, who finally has been released from his WVU scholarship and has already been contacted by John Beilein in Michigan and Matt Painter in Purdue, but there were others in that mix of not playing defense.

That included his freshman center, Devon Williams, whom he is counting on for big things in the coming year.

“He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and he can rebound, but he didn’t guard anyone,” Huggins said, before drawing a laugh by adding, “He promised he would try to guard somebody this year.”

Again, that wasn’t a joke.

Huggins believes that the additions of Jonathan Holton, who may wind up being his best player, even with Juwan Staten still on the team, and Elijah Macon as inside forces playing defense and rebounding will give his team a dimension it lacked last year.

And his latest recruit, Tarik Phillip, recently talked with the Charleston Daily Mail about his defensive mentality.

  “I’m not going to lie to you,” Phillip said. “I’ve always been a good defender. When I was young, there were times my offensive game would struggle. I worked at that, but my defense always stayed the same. As I got better on offense, my defense was still there. I know I can lack on offense, or at least I used to, but I’m not going to let you score on me.

“If I’m struggling on offense and I have zero points, I’m going to make sure you have zero points, too.”

Hearing that was to Huggins like hearing you’ve scored four tickets to Jimmy Buffet as a college kid.

Defense is where his team can improve the most and will, if it knows what’s good for it.

But No. 21?

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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