Big 12 Team Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 4th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: West Virginia. 

Where We Left Off: We left off with a year West Virginia hadn’t experienced since legendary coach Gale Catlett’s 8-20 nightmare of a season in 2001-02. While last season’s edition of the Mountaineers won 13 games overall, it felt like eight games considering the success the program had achieved over the past decade. Kevin Jones and Darryl “Truck” Bryant, two integral pieces of the school’s run to the Final Four in 2010, graduated after the 2011-12 season and it seemed their leadership on the court left as well. The responsibility of team leaders fell on the broad shoulders of upperclassmen Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray, but their combined struggles on and off the floor set an ominous tone for a team that couldn’t seem to straighten themselves out. The .462 winning percentage in 2012-13 was the worst ever at the Division I level for WVU alumnus Bob Huggins.

I'm sure Bob Huggins would like to smile a bit more in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

I’m sure Bob Huggins would like to smile a bit more in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Positives: One big problem for WVU last season was scoring, but three of the team’s top five scorers are back for another season. Eron Harris was a precocious freshman who didn’t see consistent playing time until conference play, but when he did play he took advantage of the opportunity, leading the team in scoring at a modest 9.8 points per game. The pressure will be on the sophomore Harris to become this year’s go-to scorer. Terry Henderson is back for his sophomore season as well after developing into a threat from behind the arc last season (40%). More will also be asked of Juwan Staten, who transferred over from Dayton last season and now assumes the responsibility as the team’s starting point guard and defensive leader. Another positive is for Bob Huggins to start fresh this season. The leaders of the team are mostly sophomores and juniors, and if you’re a guy with the pedigree of Huggins, you’ve got to feel better about your team winning more than 13 games this time around.

NegativesAnd yet as I make that point about the underclassmen, that could be his team’s eventual undoing. There isn’t a single senior listed on the roster and two of the five juniors are JuCo transfers. How will this young core deal with adversity? While Murray and Kilicli may have disappointed in their WVU careers, at least they were somewhat intimidating forces in the interior. Their departures leaves a gap that could be filled with an unknown commodity in JuCo transfer Jonathan Holton. He had solid numbers as a freshman at Rhode Island, averaging 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, followed by 17.5 points and 14.1 rebounds per game while shooting 39.6% from three-point range at Palm Beach State Community College (FL) last season. But that sure is a lot to expect from one guy needing to replace the production of two players.

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Big East Morning Five: Inaugural Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011

  1. The 24-hour hoops marathon was not very kind to some Big East teams, especially West Virginia, which broke a 36-game non-conference home winning streak when they lost to a very good Kent State team, 70-60. Point guard Truck Bryant, who the Mountaineers are hoping will help bridge the gap until some of the young players mature, turned the ball over six times to go with just one assist and he finished just 4-13 from the field. After the game, Bryant admitted he didn’t play very well. Meanwhile coach Bob Huggins readily admitted that his team struggled, especially his freshmen, and he challenged them to step it up. The Mountaineers played all six of their freshmen with mixed results and the team turned the ball over 17 times and missed a dozen free throws. These are the growing pains a young team will inevitably face, and the pain might be sharper when West Virginia starts their conference schedule. On the bright side, we might get a number of excellent Huggins rants out of this season. The anticipation is killing me!
  2. Speaking of lack of experience, Rutgers was the second team to lose yesterday as they spotted Miami a ten-point lead at halftime and never really made it close at any point. Reserve forward Austin Carroll led the team with eleven points, but he was the only one playing with any passion, at least according to coach Mike Rice who alluded to what we can only assume are memories of third grade when he said, “Austin is the only one I would like to walk to the bus with me.” The story also quotes Rice criticizing his freshman guards such as Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears, something he will likely do a lot simply because he doesn’t have the luxury of a veteran backcourt. After barely nipping Dartmouth in RU’s first game, Mike Rice’s team has the look of a squad that will struggle a lot this year. Rice is an excellent coach, and because of that they will play tough and competitively, but there is simply not enough veteran talent on the roster to succeed in the face of such a demanding schedule.
  3. The Mikan Drill had yet another excellent in-depth post about the importance of Pittsburgh forward Nasir Robinson to his team’s zone offense. They used advanced stats to show Robinson was wildly more efficient than any of the other players Jamie Dixon tried in the middle of the zone offense, and also noted that when Robinson is not in the game the guards are more hesitant to attack the rim and prone to tossing up contested three-pointers. Ashton Gibbs may be the team’s best player, and Tray Woodall has gotten plenty of attention for his improved range and overall offensive skill set. But I am convinced Robinson is the team’s unsung hero and one of its most important players. He is versatile enough both offensively and defensively to play big or small, and he has an underrated offensive game to go with his rebounding prowess and defensive energy. Pitt is always considered one of the toughest teams in the country and this year is no exception, and that is primarily because of the presence of Robinson in the middle of that lineup.
  4. Syracuse routed Albany last night as expected, but the game’s MVP might have been just as unexpected. As The Daily Orange rightly called out junior James Southerland for his 6-9 shooting performance in the first half that helped the Orange overcome a sluggish start. It was pats on the back and glowing quotes all around for Southerland in the story, but if he can become an offensive weapon too, that would make Jim Boeheim‘s team that much more dangerous. I can’t be too sure about this because I have never done it, but it must not be easy guarding an athletic 6’8” man who can shoot from long-range and also attack the rim.
  5. Okay so this article was originally published more than two weeks ago, but its our first day so I get to call attention to it anyway. ESPN’s Jason King penned a column about the rise in junior college players playing key roles on good teams. He just so happens to use Marquette and their litany of JuCo players to illustrate his point. There was also an accompanying blog post that highlighted St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey and Cincinnati’s Cheikh Mbodj as two junior college transfers to watch in the Big East. The point is a salient one if slightly outdated. Teams like Marquette and Cincinnati and St. John’s and even South Florida and Seton Hall have been using junior college transfers to remain competitive for years, although it should be noted that this year’s crop seems to be exceptionally important to their teams’ success. Of course for all of their benefits, junior college players can still be a gamble and they also mean more recruiting because they have fewer possible years of eligibility. But if it helps a team win, I seriously doubt any Big East coach is worried about logging some extra frequent flier miles while recruiting.
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