Thursday, November 5, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- West Virginia Mountaineers

Too Busy for the Details?
Returning 65.9% of a squad that finished #7 in the conference last season before a disappointingly early exit from the NCAAs, hopes are very high for the Mountaineers, with many pegging West Virginia as the #1 or #2 team in the conference. This would be a tremendous development for Coach Bob Huggins, a West Virginia alum who returned to Morgantown 2 seasons ago when John Beilein took the Michigan job. Huggins and staff have incorporated the strengths of Beilein's "Flying Circus" squad into a more inside, power basketball-focused offensive system. This could be, despite the loss of senior Alex Ruoff, a breakout season for the 'Eers...if they can get consistent play from their backcourt. Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Coach Huggins gets a double bonus this season -- this season's squad will have the most "Huggins-oriented" make up of any squad he has had at Morgantown, and it is the most experienced Mountaineer squad he has managed in his short tenure.


Losing Alex Ruoff hurts, especially with outside shooting (note the 41.6% returning %3FGM above), but much of the rest of West Virginia's offense and defense returns intact as Coach Huggins works to balance his outside threats (Butler & the newcomers Mitchell and Pepper) with inside 'tweeners like Smith, Ebanks, Jones and Flowers (& the newcomers Kilicli & Jennings).

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg115.318116.721118.313
Overall DRtg89.11490.42494.057
Big East ORtg106.38107.44106.24
Big East DRtg98.1399.64103.412
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%48.519351.411254.717
All Off. TOv%17.94216.1617.010
All Off. OReb%40.8534.69930.2270
All Off. FTA/FGA35.919036.617128.2320
All Def. eFG%46.66148.08049.3131
All Def. TOv%23.33322.67623.839
All Def. OReb%31.611930.78035.2251
All Def. FTA/FGA38.422239.723728.833
Four Factors -- Big East Only
BE Off. eFG%47.51248.21053.92
BE Off. TOv%17.4514.8117.33
BE Off. OReb%37.7333.0924.816
BE Off. FTA/FGA29.21340.1330.313
BE Def. eFG%47.7350.21151.614
BE Def. TOv%20.9321.7321.14
BE Def. OReb%32.1531.3535.914
BE Def. FTA/FGA39.71337.7834.810
All Gms Cons25.332727.133324.2295
All Gms Luck-.075311-.025203+.015122

Possibly a reflection of the change in coaching styles, the Mountaineers rank for the 2nd season running, near the bottom of DI for Luck and Consistency. A troubling trend that hints the Mountaineers may struggle unexpectedly at times and could well post a won-loss record lower than the squad's Pythagorean Winning Percentage would suggest.

For the Record...
Big East1080.5561170.611970.563
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 1NCAA/Rnd 3NIT/Champ

The Mountaineer's Nucleus
Coach Huggins will bring back Ebanks & Butler, two of West Virginia's 3 top scorers from 2009. Losses from the #5 spot (little used Josh Sowards and Dee Proby both transferred out) have thinned the front court, but Coach Huggins, not a big fan of the space eater-type low post player, will go with quartet of 'tweeners who range from 6-7 to 6-9, and tip the scales from 215 to 250 or so. A handful of those 'tweeners are returnees -- Butler, Smith, Jones, Flowers & Thoroughman.

On Offense

Bryant and Mazzulla were suspended from all basketball activities during the off season. The school however posted both to the preseason roster, and sure enough they were re-instated before the Fall practice (mid October). With Ebanks and Mazzulla reinstated, the Mountaineers will enter the season with a deep and experienced back court, including bodies (returning and entering) to man the #1 and #2. And the same goes for their front court.

On Defense
Da'Sean Butler82.613.511.516.11.02.3
Devin Ebanks75.220.217.418.72.61.7
Darryl Bryant63.76.721.
Wellington Smith53.39.811.317.37.81.6
Kevin Jones48.
John Flowers42.012.611.
Cam Thoroughman21.714.312.931.71.52.6
Joe Mazzulla10.710.

Bryant and Mazzulla are clearly the point guards (note their assist and turnover rates -- Ast% and TO% respectively), but the others are very good at distributing the ball. No one, Thoroughman excepted, is especially loose with the ball either.

Significant Additions
Coach Huggins continues to stock his squad with athletic forwards, consistent with teams/programs he built at Akron, Cincinnati and Kansas State, before coming to West Virginia. The incoming class, 3 Top 100 (ESPNU) ranked freshmen and the JUCO Player of the Year (also consistent with his recruiting practices), is a consensus top 2/3 class in the Big East. , if short of point guards. Casey Mitchell, a 6-4 SG out of Chipola Junior College, Florida will step into the wing spot vacated by Alex Ruoff. Mitchell was JUCO player of the year last season when he chipped in 20 ppg for Chipola. He will go a long way in filling the point void left by the departed Ruoff. He may take some ball handling responsibilities should Mazzulla and/or Bryant not be re-instated in 2009-10. Deniz Kilicli is a 6-9 Turkish import who will step into the #4/#5 and push Smith, Jones and Thoroughman for time. Kilicli played for the Turkish national team this past summer in the World University Games (Serbia), and was ranked #47 by ESPN/Scouts, Inc., in their 2009 Top 100. The NCAA, however, suspended him for West Virginia's first 20 games this season for play on a Turkish team that also employed a professional player. Strictly prohibited under NCAA rules. Dan Jennings, a 6-8, 225lb #4 out of St. Thomas More School in Connecticut (a name that should be familiar to Villanova fans), will compete for time in the low post. A physical player who likes to draw contact, Jennings was ranked #60 by ESPN/Scouts, Inc. Dalton Pepper is another name familiar to the Wildcat faithful. Pepper graduated from Pennsbury HS in Pennsylvania, was on Villanova's recruiting radar until he pulled the trigger for West Virginia in 2008. Pepper continues the "Philadelphia guard" tradition with physical play and rebounding to go with his shooting. Pepper is also rated in ESPN/Scout Inc.'s Top 100 (#96), and will compete with wing Da'Sean Butler for playing time. If Mazzulla & Bryant remain suspended through the beginning of the season look for Pepper to get a look at the #1.

Explode If...
1. Coach Huggins can solidify the point guard position. Having either (or both) of junior Joe Mazzulla and sophomore Darryl Bryant would be a huge step for the program. Both are fast, can slash into the lane and are strong enough to finish after contact. Mazzulla may be a bit rusty after taking a red shirt last season. The summer suspension may also have set him back. Bryant spent most of last season on the steep side of the learning curve. His shooting should be more accurate this season, which will be a big boon for the program.
2. Coach Huggins can find a productive rotation for the forward spots. One or more of Kilicli, Jennings or Smith (more likely) will spend time in the low post. Of the returning players Ebanks and Jones were the more productive on the boards. Kilicli or Jennings can get time if he can rebound.
3. A combination of (an improved) Ebanks, Bryant, Flowers and Jones, along with newcomers Casey Mitchell and/or Dalton Pepper surpasses Alex Ruoff's offensive production. The staff will no doubt give each a long look.
4. The 'Eers can figure out how to break on the high side of .500 on the road. Over the past 2 conference seasons West Virginia has gone 13-5 at home, and a far more modest 8-10 on the road. They went 7-2 at home, very close to the max. An 8-1 home record coupled with a 5-4/6-3 road record should seal a #1 seed in New York City next March.

Implode If...
The usual demons of injury & egos aside, Huggins' teams have often proven to be their own worst enemies. The first two seasons passed with only 2 - 3 distractions. Are Mazzulla and Bryant an anamoly or a hint of things to come.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
West Virginia will face Long Beach State in the first round of the 76 Classic. The second round opponent will be either Texas A&M or Clemson, with the third rond opponent coming from the other of UCLA, Minnesota or Butler, most likely. 2-1 -- or better 3-0 -- should warm the hearts throughout the Mountaineer Nation. WVU will host (former Rutgers Coach) Gary Waters' Cleveland State Vikings, a team that upset Syracuse last season in the Carrier Dome, then face Ole Miss, coached by former Huggins' assistant Andy Kennedy. Going undefeated (or 9-1...) into the Big East regular season would be a strong signal the 'Eers are ready to contend for the Big East title. Their January/February leg contains three more OOC opponents, in-state rival Marshall, along with national powers Purdue and Ohio State -- both nationally televised games.

West Virginia jump starts their Big East season with a trip to Newark to face the Seton Hall Pirates at the Rock in what promises to be a good test. A run back to Morgantown for their home opener versus the Marquette Golden Eagles will be followed by a trip to Indiana to play Purdue. Marquette may be the breather in that run. A breather back home against Rutgers will be followed by a two game road trip, first to South Bend and the Fighting Irish, followed by a swing down to Tampa and a matchup with the Bulls. Those games should be a good barometer of how far the Mountaineers are progressing. Beating both the Irish (generally tough to do at the Joyce Center) and the Bulls could put WVU at 5-0 (or 4-1) going into a mini-homestand where they deal first with Syracuse and then their last two (before the NCAAs) OOC opponents (Marchall & Ohio State). 3-0 through that stand should have the 'Eers ranked in the top 10, especially if they are #1 in the Big East standings at that point. The real test for Coach Huggins' squad will come in the last 5 games of the regular season, as WVU will come off of another two game road trip (to Pittsburgh and then Providence) to host Seton Hall and close out their home-n-away series with the Pirates. The 'Eers travel to Storrs to close out their mirror games with the Huskies, and return home to face Cincinnati, then Georgetown. And then they finish with a road closer at Villanova. Note four of those five opponents are projected to finish in the top 6 of the conference, with a season-ending clash between the preseason #1 & #2 ranked teams. Irrespective of their record entering this last leg of the conference play (13-0? 12-1? 11-2?), it is very unlikely they will go 5-0. 4-1 is likely (not necessarily Villanova), even 3-2 (or 2-3?) would not be shocking.

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