When a college basketball team travels halfway across the globe—as the West Virginia Mountaineers are when they visit Spain in August—it’s an opportunity for teammates to get to know one another.
It’s not as if they will have much other choice.
“When you have a lot of new guys, like we have, it’s a great team-bonding experience,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, adding jokingly: “For the most part, they’ll have to talk to each other because they can’t talk to anybody there.”
The three-game trip Aug. 6-11 pits West Virginia against the Madrid All-Stars, Valencia Basketball Academy and Barcelona All-Stars, with each game airing live and on-demand on FloHoops.com and the FloSports app. Competition in Spain marks the first look at what’s a largely rebuilt roster.
Each game will help set the foundation for the Mountaineers, who are out to rebound from a 15-21 record—and the subsequent end to the program’s four-year NCAA Tournament streak—in 2018-19.
“We better improve on everything,” Huggins said. “We weren’t a very good rebounding team. We were maybe the worst defensive team I’ve had, ever. And we didn’t make shots. I think we’ve got virtually everything there is we can get better at.”
In his 12 seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers reached nine NCAA Tournaments, four Sweet 16s and a Final Four. Along the way, they cultivated a reputation as “Press Virginia,” employing arguably the most aggressive and effective full-court pressure defense in college basketball.
Last season’s No. 135 national rank in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com metrics, was the second-worst of Huggins’ tenure. The 2012-13 group finished No. 137, which, not coincidentally, was the only other team to finish below .500 during Huggins' tenure in Morgantown.
Turnovers on 21.3 percent of possessions and an effective field-goal percentage of 47.5 on the offensive end compounded the uncharacteristic defensive woes.
Part of the beauty of restructuring a lineup, however, is the fresh start it provides. Huggins said he already sees strides in preparation for the tour of Spain. The experience of traveling across the Atlantic should only further progress one of the strongest areas for this young team.
“They don’t have any cliques, they all get along and hang out together,” Huggins said. “I think this will continue to foster that.”
Returning from the 2018-19 roster are big man Derek Culver, who averaged a shade below a double-double at 11.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game; and guard Jordan McCabe, who came on strong with increased minutes during Big 12 Conference play. Among his late-season efforts was a 25-point, 11-assist outing against TCU.
The duo provides some veteran guidance to integrate with an influx of new faces, including McDonald’s All-American forward Oscar Tshiebwe. The Spanish tour will serve as an introduction for fans to the talented Tshiebwe.
With Tshiebwe at a lengthy 6-foot-9, and the 6-foot-10 frame of Culver, West Virginia could boast one of the most formidable front courts in the Big 12 in 2019-20.
And in Spain, they’ll have no trouble getting acquainted with one another.