Friday, September 21, 2007
#44 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
Last Season: 27-9 (9-7), Won NIT championship
Key Losses: Frank Young (15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Key Adds: F John Flowers, F Will Thomas
New coach Bob Huggins inherits a team with two excellent guards, in senior PG Darris Nichols (10.9 ppg/4.6 apg) and junior SG Alex Ruoff (10.3 ppg/5.3 apg). Nichols is one of the top point men in the Big East, who added 1.3 steals per game as well and knocked down 42% of his three-pointers. Ruoff can also play D, as he chipped in with 2.0 steals per game. His height (6-6) can cause some matchup problems, but he needs to get better from the perimeter, hitting just 34% of his threes while shooting just under 40% overall.
Sophomore Joel Mazzulla will likely be the backup point guard. Despite averaging just 8.7 minutes per game last season, Mazzulla looked capable when he played. Depth comes from Devan Bawinkel, Jonnie West (son of Jerry), and freshman Will Thomas. Thomas is Huggins' first recruit at WVU, and if he has recovered from a broken leg suffered last season in high school could be a nice player.
The departed Frank Young, last season's leading scorer, will be missed, but WVU may have enough talent to withstand it. The frontcourt will add two more returning double-digit starters to this team, along with the two guards, in Fs Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler. Both are very athletic, and should thrive in the switch from John Beilein's slow-down perimeter half-court game to Bob Huggins' up-tempo transition style offense. The 6-8 Alexander is an excellent defender who lead the team in blocks last season, but struggled with his shooting at times, particularly at the end of the season. Butler is a 6-7 slasher who made the Big East All-Freshman team last season as the Mountaineers sixth man.
The final spot will likely either go to returning seven-footer Jamie Smalligan or 6-7 freshman John Flowers. Smalligan is more of the mold of former WVU center Kevin Pittsnoggle, where he is more comfortable on the perimeter (45% on 3's) than in the paint (averaged just 3.2 rebs per game last year). Huggins wants to see him play with his back to the basket more and get stronger, and he apparently has hit the weights hard. How well he can adapt to his new role will determine his playing time.
These are mainly Beilein's players, and Huggins and he do not generally run the same type of team. If the players can adapt to Huggins' ideas, or Huggins can adapt to his players skill sets, this team has a change to make a run at a tournament bid. If not, it could turn into a mess, and a return trip to the NIT.