Assessing the Season: West Virginia MountaineersPosted by KoryCarpenter on April 23rd, 2013
Heading into the season, you could have argued that West Virginia had a better talent and coaching combination than eight or nine teams in the Big 12. They returned a number of talented sophomores who seemed poised for breakout years, led by Keaton Miles (30 starts as a freshman) and Jabari Hinds, who started all 33 games as a freshman while averaging 7.4 PPG and 2.5 RPG. Gary Browne (6.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG) wasn’t bad, either, and expecting the trio to see big jumps in production after a year adjusting to the college game seemed fair. The Mountaineers also had a pair of talented Atlantic 10 transfers who would be eligible in guard Juwan Staten and center Aaric Murray. As a freshman at Dayton in 2010-11, Staten had led the Atlantic 10 in assists with 190 while starting all 34 games for the Flyers. In two seasons at La Salle, Murray had climbed all the way to No. 2 on the school’s all-time blocks list with 143. His 15.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.3 BPG averages as a sophomore led the team, and it was obvious he should try his luck on a bigger stage. Then there was the bull on the block, senior forward Deniz Kilicli, the 6’9″, 260-pound forward who averaged 10.7 PPG in 2011-12.
As you can see, future Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins had a talented roster heading into this season. But with that talent came a lot of question marks. Would the freshmen take that next step? Would the transfers adjust to stiffer competition in a major conference? Would there be program growing pains in their first season in the Big 12, a conference in which their closest road game (Iowa State) was nearly 900 miles from home?
As it turned out, Miles couldn’t get on the floor, averaging only 2.6 PPG. Browne shot only 32.5 percent from the field with 5.2 PPG, and while Hinds’ average stayed at 7.4 PPG, his shooting percentage plummeted from seven points to 35.1 percent. The transfers Murray (8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Staten (7.6 PPG) were good but not great. Perhaps the only pleasant surprise this season was freshman guard Eron Harris, who led the team with 9.8 PPG. It was a roster made up of many different pieces that never came together, and that may have been evident as early as opening night.
- Beating Virginia Tech on a Buzzer Beater, December 8: At this point the Mountaineers sported a record of 3-3 including a loss to Davidson. They were looking for their first win against a team with a pulse and they got it after three players finished in double figures, led by Aaric Murray’s 15 points. Juwan Staten drove for a layup with fewer than five seconds left and Virginia Tech’s subsequent last second shot missed the mark, giving the Mountaineers a 68-67 win and a winning record.
- Capturing First Big 12 Win at Texas, January 9: Their first Big 12 road trip was a 1,400 mile journey, so I’m sure they didn’t mind playing an extra five minutes in Austin. After trailing by 13 points with just over eight minutes to go, West Virginia tied the game on a Gary Browne steal and layup with 90 seconds left. In overtime, the Mountaineers controlled the glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds en route to an ugly 57-53 win.
- Sweeping the Longhorns, February 4: The season to this point hadn’t gone the way Huggins or his team had planned, but the Mountaineers had a chance to climb back to .500 on the year and inch closer to .500 in Big 12 play (3-5 coming into the game) against the Longhorns. Deniz Kilicli and Jabari Hinds each had 14 points and West Virginia survived another close game against Texas, this time winning 60-58.
- Opening Night Blowout Loss to Gonzaga: Gonzaga ended up being much better than people thought, so losing to the Bulldogs on their tough home court in Spokane was nothing to be ashamed of — but losing by 34 points is a different thing. The Mountaineers shot 27.3 percent from the field and made only 15 field goals on their way to an 84-50 loss.
- Loss to Duquesne, December 11: The three-game winning streak and dramatic win over Virginia Tech had given the Mountaineers a little momentum for the first time all season, but Duquesne doused any hopes of sustained success. West Virginia led by as many as 15 points, but a miserable offensive second half in which they put up only 20 points was too much to overcome, and they lost 60-56.
- Bad Loss to Purdue, January 19: In a rare non-conference game in the middle of Big 12 play, the Mountaineers were able to take a breather from the Big 12 after starting 1-3. Purdue wasn’t good this season and while West Virginia wasn’t either, it seemed like a decent chance to pick up another win on national television. The Mountaineers shot 29.3 percent and were embarrassed by 27 points against the Boilermakers.
- Seven-Game Losing Streak to End the Season: The home stretch of the schedule was anything but easy, but it’s hard to imagine a Bob Huggins’ coached team dropping seven straight games to end the year. It was highlighted by a 71-59 home loss to Texas Tech to close out the season.
The 2012-13 season might go down as the worst in Bob Huggins’ career, if not for the on-court results then for the inability to meet expectations with a roster that was capable of much more. It was a bad case of Murphy’s Law all season. Some returning players seemed to plateau while others regressed. Whether fair or not, the much-hyped transfer duo of Murray and Staten didn’t live up to its preseason billing. Eron Harris was the best offensive weapon they had but he was only a freshman. Deniz Kilicli — the senior, the supposed anchor down low — regressed offensively from last season, and all of it put together resulted in the Mountaineers unable to make a statement in their first year in a down Big 12. Luckily for West Virginia fans, every player of note except Kilicli is back next season. Bob Huggins is still on the sideline, and perhaps most importantly, the Big 12 looks like it will be down yet again — potentially even worse than this season. Third place behind Oklahoma State and Kansas is up for grabs, especially after Kansas State announced starting point guard Angel Rodriguez is transferring somewhere east of Manhattan. But like this time last year, there are plenty of open questions surrounding the basketball program as the offseason gets underway.