MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia men’s basketball head coach Bob Huggins met with members of the media Monday ahead of his team’s upcoming matchup against Baylor (15-2, 3-2 Big 12).
The Mountaineers (13-3, 2-2) are in the midst of a stretch of games that has them playing three-straight contests against ranked opponents.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Huggins’ time with reporters:
Update on Taz Sherman
Senior guard Taz Sherman has played in three games since being cleared to return from a stint on the COVID-19 health and safety protocols list.
While Sherman has scored in double-figures in two of those three games, he did record a season-low five points last time out against Kansas.
Huggins said following the loss to the Jayhawks that Sherman is still working his way back, and that remains the case two days later.
“He didn’t look like he was 100 percent yesterday [in practice],” Huggins said Monday. “He’s not 100 percent yet. I’m not a doctor, I can’t put a percent on it, but he’s not where he was.”
Huggins added that he and the West Virginia coaching staff tried to get Sherman out of drills when they could. But the head coach also said they were trying to get him the necessary work so that the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 can get as close to being 100 percent as possible.
Simply put, Baylor is a good basketball team.
“They’re good. They can create really good shots for themselves, they create for others.” Huggins said of Baylor’s guards. “Their two bigs have gotten much, much better.”
The Bears are coming off back-to-back losses. West Virginia is tasked with handing them a third consecutive loss.
Asked about Baylor’s losing streak, Huggins credited the strength of the Big 12 Conference.
“Sean [McNeil] said it best, they’re playing in the hardest league in America,” Huggins said. “You just don’t get a break in this league.”
Baylor is not only one of the top offensive teams in the Big 12, but Scott Drew’s team is stout defensively as well.
“People play a lot of variety of [defenses]. Baylor’s not just going to play us man-to-man, they’re going to play zone. They’re going to press a little bit,” said Huggins. “I think Scott [Drew] is one of the guys that’s really got that figured out.”
Baylor also may have the height advantage against the Mountaineers.
“They start 6-10, 6-8, 6-9, 6-3, six-foot, so it’s a lot of matchup problems,” he said.
Strength of the Big 12
Both Huggins and McNeil spoke to the strength of the Big 12 Conference during their conversations with reporters.
McNeil, who is among the leading scorers in the Big 12, mentioned “how talented this league is from top to bottom,” adding that the conference is, “completely up for grabs.”
Huggins stated that one reason the league is so tough this year is that each team does different things well. That makes it hard to scout, and find consistencies from one opponent to the next.
He also said there’s no real bottom team in the league this season.
“I was in the Big East when the Big East was the Big East,” he said. “I don’t think any of those leagues [that I’ve coached in], top to bottom, were as good [as the Big 12].”
Kansas State is the lowest-rated team in the Big 12, in terms of the NET Rankings, coming in at No. 75 on Monday. All other Big 12 teams are ranked inside the top 55.
“There’s no break in this league,” Huggins said.
Decisions on James Okonkwo playing time
Huggins hinted that he and the coaching staff are battling with the decision of how to best use and develop freshman forward James Okonkwo.
“I wanted to play him the last two games,” Huggins said. “Then you start thinking, do I play him where he’s going to play maybe a game or two, and if I don’t know, obviously, what’s going to happen down the road playing in this league?”
The head coach mentioned Monday, as he’s mentioned before, that Okonkwo wasn’t ready to play in the team’s season opener.
Okonkwo has appeared in two games this season, logging a total of seven minutes and scoring the first points of his collegiate career against Radford on December 4.
Despite the young forward having already entered two games, Huggins mentioned weighing the factors of playing him further, or potentially redshirting him.
“Is it worth taking a year from him? Or do you redshirt him and he has four to go?” Huggins asked. “That’s what we’ve struggled with.”
The head coach said that Okonkwo is getting better with more practice.
“At some point in time this year he will be able to help us,” Huggins added. “The way that he’s been playing in practice, he’s starting to catch on.”