WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

BLOG: Carter, Guards leading the way for WVU

It was well understood heading into the season that senior guard Jevon Carter was likely going to have to be the leader on and off the court for No. 18 West Virginia (8-1) this season.

On the court Carter has continued to be one of the toughest, grittiest defenders in the country, setting the school record for career steals last week. Not only has he been a stellar defender, but he’s also been the Mountaineers’ top scorer at just under 20 points per game.

Behind Carter, though, has been a duo of guards also averaging double-figures in scoring, Daxter Miles Jr. and James “Beetle” Bolden.

The backcourt tandem of Carter and Miles have put together a combined 10 games of at least 16 points highlighted by Miles’ 32-point performance against Morgan State.

Miles, who at times can be lights out from beyond the arc, has been doing much of his damage from two-point range, driving to the basket, getting putbacks to go down, and scoring on contested jumpers.

WVU head coach Bob Huggins has repeatedly said this year that the improvement in Miles’ game comes from constant work in the practice facility.

Carter has not only been scoring well, but he’s leading the team in assists (5.7) and steals (4.2) per game, and is third on the team in rebounds (5.3).

The senior guard is coming off a double-double performance Tuesday against No. 15 Virginia. So far, he has put together three games of at least 10 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals.

With the two senior guards leading the way, Bolden seems to have stepped into the role as the best scorer off the bench. It’s a role that’s been extremely important to Mountaineer teams’ success over the past few years, with the likes of Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip each making a major impact as reserves.

Bolden is averaging 11 points per game and has gone over that season average five times,  including 19 points in the season opener against Texas A&M.

This isn’t to say the big men haven’t been getting it done.

Sagaba Konate has improved his game, and Lamont West is WVU’s third-leading scorer. Sophomore forward Wesley Harris has also been a nice addition, as has freshman Teddy Allen.

But the guards have been leading the charge.

Backcourt players have accounted for 64 percent of double-figure scoring outputs this season, and Carter, Bolden, and Miles have also been getting it done on the defensive end, each averaging at least 1.3 steals per contest.

The No. 18 West Virginia Mountaineers (8-1) renew their greatest rivalry Saturday when they travel up the road to the Petersen Events Center to take on former Big East opponent Pittsburgh (5-4).

It’s the first meeting between the two clubs since 2012, and the first of a four-game home-and-home series that was signed into place last year.

Pittsburgh will host Saturday and in 2019, West Virginia will play host in 2018 and 2020 leading into the revitalization of the Backyard Brawl on the gridiron at Heinz Field the following year.

It’s the 185th installment of the Brawl on the hardcourt. Here are some notes heading into the matchup.

Series Overview

WVU leads the series all-time 96-88, winning the most recent meeting 66-48 on February 16, 2012.

The nearly six-year gap between matchups is the longest in the series since the two teams didn’t play each other at all between 1908 and 1914.

Neither team has fared well on the road in the series. West Virginia is just 35-56 in Pittsburgh, and just 2-7 at the Petersen Events Center. The Mountaineers have dropped six of the last seven at Pitt.

Overall, the Panthers have won six of the last ten matchups and 16 of the most-recent 23.

Huggins vs. Pitt

Legendary head coach Bob Huggins hasn’t had the greatest success against the Panthers.

Huggins has a 4-9 record overall against Pittsburgh, and is just 4-7 as the head coach of the Mountaineers.

WVU vs. the ACC

WVU has won the last four games against ACC opponents. Going back further, West Virginia has won seven of the last eight and 17 of the last 21 games against teams form the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pittsburgh this season

The Panthers are just a game over .500 this season, but have won each of the last four contests.

Head coach Kevin Stallings has a trio of players averaging at least 12 points per game, led by Jared Wilson-Frame at 12.9 points per.

Ryan Luther may be the Panthers’ best all-around player, entering Saturday’s game averaging 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Biggest years in the Series History 

Two of the biggest years in the series’ history occurred in 1970 and 1982.

Biggest Years in Season History

  • 1970 meetings:
    • at Pitt – Pitt student throws a dead fish onto the court while WVU’s Will Robinson was about to shoot free throws.
    • at WVU – WVU  was looking to close out the old Field House on a positive note. Instead Pitt erases 19-point deficit to win 92-87 and cancel the WVU celebration.
  • 1982 meetings:
    • There was reportedly extra intensity that year due to it being Pitt’s last in the Eastern 8 Conference, about to leave for the Big East, which WVU wouldn’t join until 1995.
    • at Pitt: Lane violation negates late Pitt basket, WVU wins 48-45
    • at WVU: WVU outlasts Pitt 82-77 before largest crowd in Coliseum history. Officially 16,704 fans packed inside, though it was likely 17,000 at least.
    • The two teams then met 10 days later in Eastern 8 Conf. title game
      • WVU had won 23 games in a row, and was ranked No. 9 in country. Pitt won the game in upset fashion.

 

Wheeling Island Stadium was the site this weekend of the three West Virginia high school football state championship games, with multiple West Virginia commits on display, as well as players that haven’t yet signed to play for the Mountaineers but could in the future.

The feature name for many in Friday’s Class AA championship was Fairmont Senior four-star defensive lineman Dante Stills.

Stills’ team came up just a bit short, losing 29-26 to Bluefield. In the game, Stills registered just three tackles, but half of those came behind the line of scrimmage.

Martinsburg won its second straight state title Saturday afternoon, its sixth in the last eight years.

Helping lead the way all season long for the Bulldogs was defensive end, and WVU commit, Tavis Lee, who ended up with just six tackles, 1.5 of which were for loss, in a game in which the Spring Valley offense was going opposite of him most of the day.

Fellow senior Tyson Bagent — the Martinsburg quarterback who already has received offers from Albany and Shepherd but is also at least on West Virginia’s radar — put together another good performance. Bagent completed 14 of 21 passes for 232 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and running in two more.

Martinsburg junior running back and linebacker Dwayne Grantham, a player that Lee said has his eyes set on playing for the Mountaineers, finished 90 rushing yards on just eight carries, one of which was a 39-yard touchdown run in the second half. He also finished second on the team with nine tackles, 1.5 for loss.

West Virginia’s 2018 recruiting class is ranked 14th in the country by Rivals 24th in the nation by 247Sports. A pair of four-star players – one of which includes Stills – have already committed to Dana Holgorsen’s squad, and the Mountaineers are expected to be in the running for more.

West Virginia point guard Jevon Carter set the career steals record in Mountaineer hoops history Thursday night. The record-breaking steal came at the tail end of the first half of WVU’s easy 33-point win over NJIT.

With Carter now the best in program history at taking the ball away from the competition, and with at least 25 games left in his career, it’s a good time to look back at his defensive numbers through the last three-plus years.

Carter’s first steal came in his first career game against Monmouth on Nov. 14, 2014.

His first multi-steal game came two games later against George Mason when he collected a trio of takeaways.  The point guard collected the same number of steals in his next game against Boston College. That season also included his first six-steal game, which occurred on Jan. 3, 2015 against TCU.

Just over a year later, Carter came up with his 100th career takeaway, though it came in a two-point loss on the road against No. 2 Oklahoma.

During his junior year, the point guard went 18-consecutive games of collecting a steal in a two-month span. He gathered 42 steals through that stretch of competition, nearly half of his season total.

It was during that stretch that Carter earned his 200th career takeaway. However, that milestone also came in a losing effort by the Mountaineers – an overtime loss on the road against No. 3 Kansas.

Carter ended his third year on Bob Huggins’ squad with 218 steals, well within striking distance of the school mark.

He currently sits at 254 career takeaways, four more than mark previously set by Greg Jones.

 

14-15  (35gms) 15-16  (35gms) 16-17    (37gms) 17-18      (8gms) Career  (115gms)
Steals / gm 1.9 1.7 2.5 4.5 2.21
Total # Steals 67 59 92 36 254
Multi-steal gms 16 18 25 8 67
0-steal gms 8 8 3 0 19
4+ steal gms 6 4 10 6 26
Season High 6 x 2 5 x 2 6 x 2 9

 

Here are some other numbers on his steals:

  • Carter’s 67 career multi-steal games means he’s collected at least two takeaways in over half (58 percent) of the games he’s played in.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, he’s failed to create a takeaway in just 16 percent of games.
  • More impressively, Carter’s 26 games of four-plus steals means he’s accomplished the feat in 22.6 percent of contests he’s played in.
  • If Carter keeps up his current pace of 4.4 steals per game this season, he will finish with 362 career steals, which would place him fifth all-time in NCAA Division I history.
  • If he continues playing at his 2.21 steals per game mark that he’s had over his career, he’ll finish with 309 takeaways.

 

Carter will go for career steals Nos. 255 and beyond Tuesday at home against No. 18 Virginia.

After the regular season and championships, my vote:
1. Oklahoma
2. Clemson
3. Georgia
4. Auburn
5. Alabama
6. Ohio State
7. Wisconsin
8. UCF
9. Miami
10. Penn State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Stanford
14. Memphis
15. Washington
16. Oklahoma State
17. Notre Dame
18. LSU
19. Michigan State
20. Northwestern
21. Washington State
22. Virginia Tech
23. USF
24. Mississippi State
25. Boise State

I’ve told you the reasons why this season was successful for the Mountaineers. Let’s not forget that this year’s WVU team did end an extended losing streak against ranked teams.

But a seven-win season this year after a 10-win campaign last year is a bit of a step backward.

West Virginia may have outscored teams from the state of Kansas by nearly four touchdowns, but the Mountaineers gave up just 21 fewer points to the two teams from the state of Oklahoma than the four teams from Texas. West Virginia also defeated half the Lone Star State, while once against going winless against the Sooner State.

Not being able to win the biggest games of the year is one of the reasons this season wasn’t a success for WVU.

  1. Too inconsistent on offense

As good as the offense was at times, it was pretty absent in others. Over a three-game stretch against Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas, the Mountaineer offense was responsible for seven scoreless quarters, including five in a row over the last two contests mentioned.

It wasn’t the first time this season it happened either.

WVU took the third quarter off against Kansas and let the Jayhawks get back in the game; took the fourth quarter off against Baylor in a joint-effort near-collapse; turnovers and a slow start put the Mountaineers in a hole early on against Oklahoma State. The run game was non-existent at times, and whether that was scheme or execution issues – likely both –, that’s something that needs to be fixed moving forward. It’s been clear over the last few years that WVU is at its best offensively when its running the ball well.

  1. Not enough battles won in the trenches

One of the contributing factors to the offense not being at its best was the offensive line. A group that stayed relatively healthy throughout the year never seemed to fully jell.

Quarterback Will Grier was under a lot of pressure, though his play hid a number of his line’s imperfections. Despite only giving up 17 sacks all season, Grier felt the heat much more than that.

On the other side, the defensive line wasn’t getting enough push, either. To be fair, the group improved greatly from Week 1 to the end of the season, but still wasn’t getting in the backfield nearly as often as you would like to see.

  1. Tackling woes continue

One of the more glaring takeaways from the season opener was that the Mountaineer defensive players were wrapping up the Hokies. They weren’t arm tackling while trying to strip the football, they were making full body-to-body contact and completing tackles.

The longer the year went on, the less that happened. Tackling continued to be a problem and came to a head each of the last two weeks where a number of blown tackles allowed the Texas and Oklahoma offenses to get bigger plays than they should have.

  1. Minus-two in the win column

Hindsight is 20-20, but the argument can be made that this should have been a nine-win team.

Looking at the five losses, two were inevitable for the most part – Oklahoma State, because the Cowboys were simply the better team, and Oklahoma, because of the Grier injury and the Sooners being the better team. That leaves the three other losses – Virginia Tech in the season opener, on the road against TCU, and at home against Texas.

The TCU loss is arguably the loss where it’s easiest to see the path to victory. If the Mountaineers’ special teams unit doesn’t cause its own fumble on what would’ve been a punt return in the first half, TCU doesn’t score that touchdown, and maybe WVU puts the deciding points on the board. Later in that game, on the ensuing play following a Grier interception, TCU scored on a 45-yard pitch and catch that coaches said afterwards they knew was coming. There’s seven more points that could’ve been kept off the board.

Games against Texas and Virginia Tech turn into wins if uncontrollable things don’t happen.

Against the Longhorns, it’s simple: If Grier doesn’t go down the Mountaineers likely win the game. To be fair, Texas had been playing a number of close games against teams that were using their starting quarterback. Defeating the Hokies, I argue, would’ve happened if that was the second game on the schedule instead of the first. That would’ve given all the new pieces on offense a game to jell, and would’ve given Marcus Simms the chance to play in the game, both of which would’ve made a big difference.

  1. Winless in the “big ones”

Not beating Virginia Tech leads into the final point of why 2017 wasn’t a success for WVU.

Each game counts and is important, but obviously some are more important than others. Half of West Virginia’s schedule was played against ranked competition. WVU went 2-4. Neither then-ranked team WVU defeated finished the regular season in the polls.

The rivalry game against the Hokies: loss.

“ESPN GameDay” game against the Horned Frogs: loss.

Home game against the Cowboys: lopsided loss

Season finale against the Sooners: lopsided loss.

As detailed above, two of those games easily could’ve turned into wins.

West Virginia has proven to be capable of beating Oklahoma State in the past, but still needs to find the right recipe for beating Oklahoma. Being winless in big games isn’t a problem unique to this year’s team, it’s been an issue for the Mountaineers for years. Though, given how close the Mountaineers were in at least two of those games, not changing the narrative is why not winning the “big ones” hurts.

BLOG: Where do the pundits have WVU going bowling?

Predicting bowl destinations is an inexact science. Mitch Vingle will be along later tonight on wvgazettemail.com and the Wednesday edition of the Gazette-Mail to try and clear some things up. Until then, we can take a look at where those who have been predicting bowls this year have the Mountaineers headed.

Kyle Bonagura (ESPN) — Liberty Bowl vs. Memphis

David Hale (ESPN) — Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. UTSA

Jerry Palm (CBS Sports) — Liberty vs. Missouri

Bill Bender (Sporting News) — Cactus vs. Utah

Erick Smith (USA Today) — Liberty vs. Missouri

Eric Single (Sports Illustrated) — Liberty vs. Missouri

Among the national folks, the prevailing notion is the Liberty Bowl against Mizzou in a rematch of the 1998 Insight.com Bowl, with a dash of Memphis thrown in there. Of special note: Understanding that this scenario likely would never, ever happen, the Heart of Dallas Bowl has a Conference USA tie-in. Mayhaps the Heart of Dallas/Friends of Coal Bowl?

(Ow! Why did you hit me so hard?)

If WVU does indeed head to the Liberty Bowl, it would be a pretty good deal for Mountaineer fans. If you’re headed to the game, there’s plenty to do in the days prior, with Beale Street, the Peabody Hotel, Sun City Studios and Graceland all around. Plus, a late flight that night or early flight the next morning gets you back home just in time for New Year’s Eve. For the fans who decide to watch from home, it’s an early Saturday game, so the whole family can watch without missing bedtimes, plus your New Year’s Eve plans won’t be altered in the least.

Now, if it’s the Cactus or the Heart of Dallas, get ready to spend Christmas in Texas or Arizona. And if it’s the Cactus, get ready for a late night. Kickoff for that game is 9 p.m. Eastern.

So what say you WVU fans? Are you cool with Memphis in the winter?

 

Even though it left you with a nasty, sour taste in your mouth, the 2017 regular season was a success for West Virginia.

Sure, the year consisted of a combined -39 score differential to teams from the state of Oklahoma, and won’t end in as exciting of a bowl game as Mountaineer fans would’ve liked, but yes, it was a success.

Not just because finishing at 7-5 clinches another winning season, the 49th such year since the conclusion of WWII, but because of a number of reasons. Five to be exact.

  1. Grier lived up to the hype

Think back to before the season even started. The hype was massive. Fans were thinking, or hoping, that Will Grier would singlehandedly take the Mountaineers to the promised land.

Or at least that’s what they were saying.

He didn’t do that, but Grier put together one of the best seasons for a quarterback in West Virginia history.

Grier’s 34 touchdown passes are the second most, and his nearly 3,500 passing yards are the fourth most in a single season.

He was also confident and poised in the pocket, confident in his throws, and completed a good number of his passes (64.4 completion percentage).

Then the injury happened that derailed Grier’s, and by association the team’s, hopes at playing in a big bowl or even the Big 12 title game.

  1. A good 7-3 team before the injury

West Virginia wasn’t a complete team before Grier’s injury. This team has a number of holes or areas of improvement, but that doesn’t mean the Mountaineers were a bad team by any means.

Think back to the first game of the year when WVU — with a new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, short-handed receiving corps, and a defense wasn’t 100-percent — went toe-to-toe against an established Virginia Tech team, albeit coming up just short. With those factors, that was a good sign for what was to come.

A seven-point loss to TCU highlighted a lot of those areas that needed improving, and for at least one unit was a pivotal turning point that will be highlighted a little later.

A comeback win over a then-ranked Texas Tech team, not falling victim to the hype that Iowa State had when it came to Morgantown, and not allowing the wheels to fall off and give Baylor a victory were big when they occurred.

Individually, the Mountaineers were – and still are – on pace to have a trio of 1,000-yard wide receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. The Mountaineers would be the first team since Tulsa in 2007 to complete the task.

 

 

  1. Major improvements on special teams

The aforementioned loss to TCU confirmed that special teams can make all the difference in a close game.

After forcing the Horned Frogs to punt, a fumble forced by the Mountaineer return unit gave the ball right back to TCU, and turned into seven points. West Virginia went on to lose by seven.

Special teams hadn’t played great up to that point of the year.

Punter Billy Kinney wasn’t performing as well as the coaches would’ve liked, the Mountaineers weren’t getting much from their return units, and coverage was allowing opposing return units to dictate the field position battle at times.

The TCU loss put an emphasis on special teams.

The unit greatly improved from that game on, consistently earning good grades in the weekly report card, and maybe just as importantly, weren’t being mentioned post-game as reasons for a loss when one occurred.

Credit these improvements to the change made over the offseason involving head coach Dana Holgorsen, who said one of the reasons he wanted to give up the offensive play calling duties to give more attention to special teams.

  1. No more Manhattan monkey

Entering the season there were only two places in the Big 12 that West Virginia had been unable to secure a victory in since joining the conference – Manhattan, Kansas, and Norman, Oklahoma.

One of those places was scratched off the list.

Two weeks ago, WVU marched into a rainy Bill Snyder Family Stadium and walked out with a 28-23 win; holding off the Wildcats late, something that has been troublesome in the past.

A year ago, West Virginia’s win over Kansas State was big because it proved that Holgorsen could beat the man he’s looked up to for so long.

This year, the win over Snyder and K-State, in the building that dons the head coach’s very name, proved that Holgorsen’s teams can walk into almost anywhere and feel they have a shot. That’s an added bonus moving forward that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  1. Good foundation laid for next year

Looking ahead to 2018, there will be some losses from this year’s squad. Twenty seniors include both White brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir, and Justin Crawford.

That’s over 2,000 yards of offense and 81 tackles no longer suiting up.

Other losses obviously include seniors such as Al-Rasheed Benton, Elijah Wellman, Kyle Bosch and multiple players in the secondary.

Despite those losses, a good foundation has been laid for the coming seasons.

David Long Jr. is a stud and has proved it every game since returning from injury.

Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway will be a formidable backfield for Grier, who will likely still have a receiving corps that includes David Sills V, Gary Jennings, and Marcus Simms.

Young players such as Kenny Robinson (S/Fr), Dylan Tonkery (LB/r-Fr), Hakeem Bailey (CB/r-So), Reese Donahue (DL/So), and Lamonte McDougle (DL/Fr), among others, show that the defense should only get better from here.

Another winter, spring, and summer to get even more familiar with the offense, and it’s not out of the question to hope for even better numbers out of Grier and the offense next year.

The regular season may not have ended on the most positive of notes, with a pair of loses and a major injury.

Regardless, this regular season was a success for West Virginia. A win in the soon-to-be-determined bowl game would give the Mountaineers eight wins in a season for the fourth time during Holgorsen’s tenure, and 13th time since 2000.

Less than 12 months after last season’s Mountaineers won 10 games in the regular season, a seven-win campaign doesn’t feel quite as good, but it was successful nonetheless.

The latest…
1. Oklahoma
2. Wisconsin
3. Auburn
4. Clemson
5. Georgia
6. Ohio State
7. Alabama
8. Miami
9. UCF
10. TCU
11. USC
12. Penn State
13. Washington
14. Memphis
15. Oklahoma State
16. Stanford
17. Notre Dame
18. LSU
19. Michigan State
20. Northwestern
21. Washington State
22. Virginia Tech
23. North Carolina State
24. Michigan
25. Mississippi State

BLOG: Gameday Live — WVU visits Oklahoma

The Mountaineers wrap up their regular season football schedule with a visit to Norman and the Oklahoma Sooners. Mitch Vingle is in the press box. Follow the action with him right here.