MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Amid showers of Carolina-blue confetti and Nigel Willams-Goss’ tears, the 2017 college basketball season took its last lap shortly after midnight, and almost immediately the odds for next season’s champion bubbled up.
West Virginia opens at 25-to-1 to win it all in 2018, matching Butler for the 15th-best odds in the field.
Do the Mountaineers have enough to reach the Final Four in San Antonio? Or to catch Kansas in the Big 12 race? Or to better this season’s 28 wins?
Here’s a roster breakdown (with next season’s class status):
Jevon Carter, (6-2, Sr.): The NABC defensive player of the year not only led West Virginia in scoring at 13.5 points per game but also upgraded his average to nearly 19 points in the NCAA tournament.
He’s the most indispensable player on the team.
Daxter Miles (6-3, Sr.): Has played in 100 college games. yet his junior season was wildly inconsistent — which showed with a slight decline in minutes. Will he play like the kid who saw only 7 mins of action vs K-State in the Big 12 tourney, or will he resemble his NCAA tournament self who scored 18 vs. Notre Dame and grabbed 10 rebounds vs. Gonzaga?
Beetle Bolden (6-0, So.): He shot 45 percent from 3, primarily playing off-the-ball. In the absence of Tarik Phillip, does Bolden become the backup point guard next season? Or does he remain a spot-up shooter? And can his defense become reliable enough to facilitate either role?
Brandon Knapper (6-0, Fr.): Was a scoring point guard at South Charleston High and continued that production in his year at Hargrave Military Institute. He’s about 20 pounds heavier than Bolden and more physically capable of absorbing hits on his way to the basket.
Chase Harler (6-0, So.): Former state prep scoring champ saw scarce action as a freshman.
Esa Ahmad (6-8, Jr.): Averaged 11.3 points and could overtake Carter as WVU’s primary scorer next season if he maintains an attacking mentality. His 162 free-throw attempts led the team by a wide margin but his level of offensive engagement varied widely from game to game.
With Nate Adrian departing, Ahmad must grow into a big-boy rebounder and could spend more time at the 4 spot.
Lamont West (6-8, So.): Prone to occasional hot streaks, and as 34-percent 3-point shooting can attest, occasional cool ones too. The lanky West will benefit from another offseason in the weight room and the realization he can be more than just a spot-up shooter. Of his 165 shots, 102 came from beyond the arc,
Teddy Allen (6-6, Fr.): The Gatorade player of the year in Nebraska averaged 31 points, nearly 13 rebounds and four assists for Boys Town High in Omaha. He has the scoring skills to contribute right away — with Allen the question will be whether he’s athletic enough or determined enough to make the defense transition to Press Virginia.
Wesley Harris (6-8, So): Attracted big-time offers from the likes of Arizona and UConn, but thanks to an injury he didn’t play at all this season for Lawson (Ala.) State Community College.
D’Angelo Hunter (6-7, Jr.): Scored a team-high 15 per game but shot only 28 percent from 3 for a Navarro (Texas) Junior College squad that finished six games below .500.
Elijah Macon (6-9, Sr.): May never evolve into the double-double player Devin Williams was, yet he has become the best low-post scorer on the squad. Over the final 11 games Macon outperformed his modest season totals of 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Sagaba Konate (6-8, So.): Averaged more blocks per minute than any player in the Big 12, and owned the second-highest plus-minus ratio on the team behind Carter.
Presuming Konate becomes more comfortable within the halfcourt offense next season, he won’t have to rely solely on dunks and putbacks for points.
Fundamental to that growth will be controlling his emotions, which led to fouls, turnovers and occasionally beating himself up after mistakes.
Maciej Bender (6-10, So.): Played fewer than 6 minutes a game and didn’t appear at all in 14 of them. Yet assistant Erik Martin says the Polish product “is the most athletic European I’ve ever coached or played with. He’s bouncy, he’s got long arms, he’s got great touch.”
Bender’s offseason mission is to develop a better low-post game after growing up as a facing-the-basket player.
“When he came here we wanted him to be a stretch 4 in the mold of Nate (Adrian), but the reality is for his game to progress he’s going to need to learn how to score inside,” Martin said.
“When you’re a person who relies on making jump shots, sometimes your jumpers aren’t falling, so you’ve got to have another layer to your game.”
Derek Culver (6-10, Fr.): Four-star signee and Rivals No. 77 prospect faces trouble qualifying after academic struggles sidelined for most of his final high school season.
Logan Routt (6-11, So): Culver’s murky prospects means the walk-on from Cameron could be in line for playing time.
“Logan’s not a stiff. He can move and he’s gotten better at learning how to score the ball,” Martin said. “When you have a 7-footer, there are minutes to be had. There aren’t a lot of minutes, but there will be situational minutes where Logan can help us.”