Unbeaten Winfield playing to its strengths
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's shaping up to be quite a season in Kanawha Valley Class AAA basketball.
At least a half-dozen teams have flashed their talent in the season's opening two weeks, led by 4-0 Winfield.
The Generals picked up their best win to date in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hoops Classic at the Civic Center on Friday, shading Wheeling Park 64-63.
The Patriots came to town with a 2-0 record courtesy of comfortable wins over Preston and University.
Winfield, without a true presence in the low post, had managed to outscore its first three opponents, racking up 83-plus points per game.
"It's just all about playing as a group and as a team,'' said Generals coach Pat McGinnis. "This group likes one another and plays well together. If you look at our warmups, on the back it says: 'It's about the team, the team, the team.' That's kind of been our motto.''
Instead of masking its deficiencies, Winfield plays to its strengths - five-man ball-handling, perimeter shooting and scrappy defense, often trapping and fullcourt pressure.
"Our defense is pretty much fullcourt man-to-man the whole game,'' McGinnis said. "We told the kids we're going to live and die by that. It's what we're going to do.
"A lot of times we don't get steals out of our traps, but you speed [opposing players] up and they can't get into the rhythm they want, they can't get into their offense. Then maybe they take a quick shot or a bad shot. Sometimes they speed down the floor and miss it, and we get it and go the other way.''
Other Kanawha Valley teams off to solid starts so far are South Charleston (2-0), Capital (2-0), Riverside (1-0), George Washington (3-1) and Hurricane (2-1). The lone losses by GW and Hurricane both came to unbeaten Capital.
All that quality bunching should prove interesting when the Mountain State Athletic Conference begins divisional play on Jan. 23. Teams that finish atop the league's East and West Divisions meet during the MSAC Night of Champions Feb. 22 at the SC Community Center.
Capital's burst may be the most impressive of anyone's, since the teams it beat are a combined 5-0 in games other than the ones against the Cougars. Senior guard Carrington Morris averages 26.5 points in two outings.
Riverside, which hasn't posted a winning season since 2002-03, showed some promise last year, beating GW in sectional play. The Warriors' only senior, guard Tyus Wood, dropped in 32 points in Friday's 76-70 win over Class A power Magnolia at the Hoops Classic.
SC is perhaps the team facing the biggest makeover to keep its status as a Kanawha Valley contender.
The Black Eagles, who have played in seven straight state tournaments, return just one full-time starter, A.D. Cunningham, a third-team all-state selection last season. Brandon Knapper and Kentre Grier played a lot at season's end.
Coach Vic Herbert has had to mesh players like 6-foot-5 Anthony Billings and Jordan Lewis, neither of whom was eligible to compete last season, along with five or six other potential contributors.
Herbert was asked how long he thinks it will take for his largely inexperienced group to mesh.
"The coaches and I have talked about it,'' Herbert said, "and we figured it would take six to eight games into the season. That doesn't surprise me at all, not at all.
"We feel like about a third to halfway into the season, it should start coming together on a consistent basis. But the effort should always be there until we start jelling.''
The Cardinal Conference came up on the short end against the Big Ten in their initial Challenge at the Civic Center on Saturday, winning three games and losing five, but Scott was able to earn a measure of revenge.
The Skyhawks got past Fairmont Senior 66-59, wiping away some memories of last year's 55-48 loss to the Polar Bears in the first round of the Class AA state tournament. Fairmont Senior reached the title game before losing in its first go-round since dropping from AAA the previous season.
"It was nice to get that,'' said Skyhawks coach Nick Cabell, "because they beat us last year, so it was kind of a little redemption game. I know they don't have the same players, but we have everybody back but one, so they were holding that heavy whenever they played tonight.''
Cabell said it's going to take some time for southern teams, like the ones in his league, to adapt to the talent level of north central West Virginia teams that dropped from AAA to AA last season, such as Fairmont Senior and Robert C. Byrd. RCB topped Poca 56-50 in the Hoops Classic's final game.
"Their speed is so much faster,'' Cabell said, "and they're used to that [AAA] speed, which gives them somewhat of an advantage dropping down to double-A. But I think we're adjusting to the northern teams, especially the ones that dropped.
"Any time a northern conference and a southern conference get together, you want to represent your [section of the] state. I think there's a good group of teams down here in the coalfields, and hopefully we can hold our own against the northern teams.''
After losing to Winfield at the Civic Center, Wheeling Park continues to rack up the frequent flier miles, preparing for a Saturday date at GW.
"We're still searching,'' said Patriots coach Michael Jebbia. "It's a new team. I know we have to come back in eight days and play another good, quality team in George Washington.
"We play a quality schedule. No one's going to feel sorry for us. We've just got to be ready to play.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.