Rothstein Files | West Virginia has depth questions

Kentucky rothstein

West Virginia’s depth is something to monitor

The Mountaineers have won a combined 79 games over the past three seasons thanks to Bob Huggins’ shift to a relentless pressing attack, but it remains to be seen if West Virginia will boast the same quality depth it has enjoyed the past few years.

According to a school spokesman, starting small forward Esa Ahmad (11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds per game last season) will miss the first 17 games of the season for failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements and freshman guard Brandon Knapper might miss the season with a knee injury.

That means that this team will be without Ahmad until Jan. 13 at Texas Tech and might not have Knapper — who the Mountaineers were counting on to be a key reserve behind both Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles — at all.

Huggins has always adapted as well as anyone, as evidenced by his willingness to change styles, but without Knapper the only guards he has to spell Carter and Miles are sophomores James Bolden and Chase Harler. Both averaged fewer than six minutes per game last season. Junior college transfer D’Angelo Hunter is another potential option at 6-6.

Developing a quality bench with newcomers and little-used returnees to spell Carter, Miles, Lamont West and Sagaba Konate is going to be arguably the critical element in West Virginia’s season.

Malik Williams may be Louisville’s best long-term prospect

This kid has gifts from God.

Armed with good size at 6-11 and a range that extends to the 3-point line, Williams is a prospect that possesses no ceiling.

This writer took in practice at Louisville last Friday and the biggest thing that stood out is that this freshman might be the best long-term piece in the Cardinals’ program.

Williams doesn’t get — and he shouldn’t yet — the same attention as returning guys like Quentin Snider, V.J. King, Deng Adel, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud. But when games start in a few weeks don’t be shocked if Williams is trending on social media.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native can pass, dribble, and shoot and possesses some of the attributes that could make him a long-term player at the next level.

Do yourself a favor: Put Williams’ name in bold print. He’ll be a key reserve behind both Spalding and Mahmoud as Louisville — even without Rick Pitino — is in position to be one of the best teams in the ACC during the upcoming season.

Kentucky’s best early offense might be a missed shot

This is the All-Airport team.

What does that mean exactly?

If the Wildcats walked through a terminal anywhere in the world, they’d immediately be mistaken for an NBA squad because of their collective size, length, and ability to be physically imposing.

John Calipari’s unit boasts only one likely player in its rotation — freshman point guard Quade Green — that stands less than 6-5, so this team is going to be an absolute nuisance to keep off the offensive glass.

Another thing to keep in mind, though?

The big difference in this team and Calipari’s past two is that this team doesn’t have a player in the mold of Malik Monk or Jamal Murray in the backcourt that can worry a defense with his shooting ability.

Freshman guard Jemarl Baker has that skill, but it remains to be seen if he can do the other things that Calipari requires to take minutes away from guys like Hamidou Diallo or Kevin Knox on the wing. The 6-9 Knox was the most impressive shooter this writer saw during a practice last week in Lexington, but at his size it remains to be seen if he can create off the dribble in a game type setting the way that both Monk and Murray did.

This is the youngest team Calipari has ever had and he likened it to the 2013-14 squad that entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed but wound up in the national title game.

Kentucky’s defense will surely be ahead of its offense during the first few months of the season and without a low post scorer or proven shooter, the Wildcats’ best offense might be simply throwing the ball up at the rim and letting Diallo, Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, P.J. Washington, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go get it.

Six of Kentucky’s expected top seven players will stand between 6-5 and 6-11 when the season starts on Nov. 10. Try keeping that type of length off the glass.

This and that

– The biggest surprise this writer took away from taking in a practice at Xavier last week? How well freshman guard Paul Scruggs shot the basketball. If this kid can make shots with regularity, it’s going to create an entirely different dynamic for Chris Mack and the Musketeers during the 2017-18 season. The 6-3 Scruggs was a 4-star recruit out of high school.

– Florida State lost Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jonathan Isaac, but what does it return? Leonard Hamilton’s perimeter will feature four guys — Trent Forrest, C.J. Walker, Terance Mann and freshman M.J. Walker — who were all top-80 guys coming out of high school. The cupboard isn’t bare in Tallahassee.

– By the time he’s a junior, Cincinnati freshman Trevor Moore has a chance to be the American Conference’s next version of former UCF guard Matt Williams. Like Williams, Moore has intergalactic range and is an effortless long-range sniper. Don’t be shocked to see this kid on the floor when Mick Cronin’s team faces a zone or a team that’s adept at protecting the front of rim.

– North Carolina’s Kenny Williams (knee) was fully cleared for all basketball related activities last week, but will have his reps in practice monitored, a school spokesman told FanRag Sports. The 6-2 Williams averaged 6.2 points and 3.3 rebounds last season before going down with an injury.

– Miami freshman Lonnie Walker (meniscus) was cleared to do warm-up drills, but is still a ways away from being fully cleared, Jim Larranaga told FanRag Sports last week. “We’re being very cautious with him,” Larranaga said. The 6-5 Walker was a McDonald’s All-American and 5-star recruit last season.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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