Big 12 Summer Update: West Virginia MountaineersPosted by dnspewak on August 1st, 2012
In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Big 12 newcomer West Virginia.
2011-12 Record: 19-14, 9-9 Big East
It’s been four months since Gonzaga beat the pulp out of West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, a debacle which prompted Bob Huggins to admonish his team as the “worst defensive team I’ve ever had in 30 years.” Much has changed since that fateful Thursday in March, however. For starters, the Mountaineers don’t even play in the same conference after making the official transition from the Big East to the Big 12 last month. More importantly, Huggins’ roster has changed significantly. Leading scorers Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant graduated, three other players transferred, and his top Class of 2012 recruit had to reclassify and enroll in prep school. After losing nine of its final 13 games a year ago, it’s a season of transition for Huggins and his Mountaineers. Headlined by three Division I transfers — a class which rivals Iowa State’s Korie Lucious and Will Clyburn as the best group of transfers in the Big 12 — Huggins must use this critical summer period to establish roles for not only his newcomers, but also a giant sophomore class ready to bear more responsibility on this team in 2012-13.
Summer Orientation: Let’s start with the most recent addition to West Virginia’s basketball program: Matt Humphrey. He’s not the most celebrated transfer on this squad (see below), but he joined the Mountaineers’ squad this summer after graduating from Boston College and using the graduate school loophole. Humphrey, who actually began his career by spending two years at Oregon, is somewhat of an enigma. Unlike Huggins’ other highly-coveted transfers, Humphrey brings a few question marks. Despite averaging double figures in scoring as a junior at Boston College, he was not an efficient offensive player, shooting 35 percent from the field and just 31 percent from three. Playing on a horrid team for a coach (Steve Donahue) who emphasizes the three-ball, Humphrey averaged more shot attempts than any other Eagle and did not appear to fit well with the offense. However, there’s a reason an established coach like Huggins saw something in Humphrey, and a closer look at his skill set reveals he may actually be a major coup for the Mountaineers as a late addition. That’s because he will not play the same role as he did at Boston College. He won’t need to lead the team in shot attempts — Huggins has plenty of other scoring options to lean on. All he needs to do is add depth and veteran savvy to a rather young group, and Huggins has already praised his ability to defend on the perimeter and disrupt opponents with his 6’5” frame. Matt Humphrey won’t need to be a savior, so all things considered, it’s a good pickup for Huggins.
The saviors are Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray. Most of this conference is focused on Fred Hoiberg’s transfers, and on a national level, we’re hearing talk that former Big 12 member Missouri has assembled the greatest group of transfers in college basketball history. Let them talk. West Virginia’s class rivals anybody. Always undervalued at La Salle, Murray spent two productive seasons in the Atlantic 10 building his NBA pedigree, averaging more than 15 points per game as a sophomore as he flashed his elite athleticism and big man skills. Murray became That Guy from a non-power league, a player with such obvious talent that it became trendy for fans and analysts to point him out as an under-the-radar stud. At 6’10″, 240 pounds, he looks like an NBA center, and Huggins said this summer he expects the junior to consider entering the NBA Draft following the 2012-13 season. After butting heads a bit with head coach John Giannini at La Salle and failing to achieve much team success in two seasons there, this could be a classic case of a talented played with untapped potential thriving in a new situation. With Kevin Jones now gone, this team needs a new leading scorer. Aaric Murray fits that bill. And with Truck Bryant now gone, this team needs a point guard. Juwan Staten fits that bill. A coveted, blue-chip recruit out of high school, Staten experienced freshman growing pains in his lone season at Dayton, but he was not a bust by any means. He didn’t develop into an effective scoring threat, but he dished out 5.4 assists per game against 2.8 turnovers. He tried to transfer to Penn State, but he never played a game there after Ed DeChellis left for Navy. So Staten finds himself in Morgantown as the main man at the point for Huggins. Known primarily for his speed and quickness, Staten also added seven pounds of muscle during his redshirt season and said he feels more physically ready to push the tempo for the Mountaineers this year.
West Virginia also welcomes two freshmen in Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. It was supposed to be three, but four-star forward Elijah Macon had to enroll at prep school and won’t join the team until 2013-14. Harris and Henderson, both shooting guards with good size and solid perimeter shooting ability, are playing together in the Greentree Summer League with West Virginia teammates and other players from schools like Pittsburgh and Duquense. They’re also good friends now, bonding over the fact they chose West Virginia to play specifically for Bob Huggins. Unlike last year, when Huggins’ regular rotation consisted of five freshmen, Henderson and Harris won’t have to do it all this year. That’s not to say they necessarily won’t see the court, though. Harris could eventually grow into a terrific outside shooter, and he already seems to fit this program’s culture of toughness after giving a heartfelt, Huggins-like quote following a disappointing senior season. Henderson is also known as a pure shooter and is working this summer to learn how to create his own shot.
Looking Good: You might not recognize senior Deniz Kilicli when he hits the court in November. In a disappointing and baffling move, WVU’s leading returning scorer and rebounder shaved his beard. So, depending on your style, Kilicli is literally Looking Good this summer. He’s also one of just three seniors along with Humphrey and Dominique Rutledge. With Murray alongside him, Kilicli’s role as the brash, bruising but somewhat limited forward probably won’t change. He’s not a guy who will carry a team on his back, and he won’t block a ton of shots or wow you with his foot speed. But this guy is strong, tough and not afraid of anybody. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want as a secondary scoring option who can “take out the trash,” so to speak. He’ll act as the grandfather to the Class of 2011 recruiting class, a group of five players who now have one year of experience at the Division I level. They are guards Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds, wing Aaron Brown, and forwards Kevin Noreen and Keaton Miles. Thanks to that new NCAA rule allowing Huggins to work with his team during the summer, he’s had a chance to see the growth of this important sophomore class. He already likes what he sees. “Our returning guys are a lot better,” Huggins said. “They’re more relaxed and comfortable. They’re not thinking as much. And, honestly, the practice facility is doing wonders. They are spending more time there on their own.” It’s easy to talk up the newcomers, but this group is critical to West Virginia’s success this season. These five players will round out the depth of this team, all with unique roles. If Staten starts at point, Brown needs to back him up. Hinds may find himself playing alongside Staten in sort of a dual point guard role. Brown offers his 6’5” frame and ball skills in the backcourt, and Noreen and Miles need to be consistent behind Kilicli and Murray. With as much talent as these newcomers bring, it’s intriguing to wonder just how good this team could be in Year One of the Big 12 if the sophomore class materializes.
Roadblocks: Huggins has lost three players from last year’s roster in addition to Jones and Bryant, but only one defection really counts as a “roadblock.” It’s at least worth mentioning that Paul Williamson and Tommie McCune left the program after averaging about four minutes per game in 2011-12. Williamson left for Division II University of Charleston, whereas McCune transferred to Oakland after Huggins handed him a few suspensions. The notable loss here, however, is Pat Forsythe. He transferred to Akron after playing just seven games last year due to a stress fracture, but he’s a big body who could have provided a lift as a reserve. Still, Huggins has more than enough size on this team, so it’s not a devastating hit. Forsythe and McCune’s decisions to transfer also entirely ends a legal distraction stemming from a March incident — both were arrested after police said they stole debit cards from a student’s wallet.
State of the Program: There’s nothing to worry about here. Unlike TCU, a basketball program which quite frankly was probably in over its head a bit even in the Mountain West, West Virginia has nothing to fear. It hails from the mighty Big East, which has finished in the top two of the conference RPI rankings each of the last three seasons. Under Huggins, the hometown hero and West Virginia alum, the program has reached the NCAA Tournament in all five of his seasons in Morgantown. So even after a minor collapse at the end of the 2011-12 season, there’s no reason to think that poor finish was anything but an anomaly. It may have been the “worst defensive team” Huggins has ever seen in 30 years of coaching, but don’t expect that to carry into the 2012-13 season. The roster may not be of the same caliber as that 2010 Final Four team, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless, especially if Murray and Staten thrive and that sophomore class continues to grow. In fact, as you examine this roster more closely, it’s a mystery as to why West Virginia isn’t getting more play as a major sleeper in the Big 12 this season.