Kevin Jones passed on the NBA Draft to return to West Virginia. (Icon SMI)
By Keith Levinsky
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Season: 21-12 (11-7 Big East)
Key Losses: Casey Mitchell, John Flowers, Joe Mazzulla, Cam Thoroughman, Dalton Pepper
Head Coach: Bob Huggins
PG: Jabarie Hinds 5-11 Fr.
SG: Darryl Bryant 6-2 Sr.
SF: Kevin Jones 6-8 Sr.
PF: Kevin Noreen 6-10 Fr.
C: Deniz Kilicli 6-9 Jr.
Key Reserves: Aaron Brown 6-5 Fr. SF, Gary Browne 6-1 Fr. PG, Tommie McCune 6-7 Fr. PF, Keaton Miles 6-6 Fr. PF, Pat Forsythe 6-9 Fr. C
Last year West Virginia was one of the teams that helped to make the Big East arguably the toughest conference in college basketball. Every team in the country had to fear playing in Morgantown, because the Mountaineers could play any team close. The Mountaineers certainly knew how to pull off the upset, knocking off several of the best teams in the Big East and the country including Connecticut, Notre Dame, Louisville, Purdue and Georgetown.
Darryl "Truck" Bryant, Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli will look to continue to beat top-ranked squads this season. Outside of these three, though, West Virginia does not return any other impact players from last year's squad. The Mountaineers have lost a slew of talent. Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzula are three of the six seniors who graduated. Additionally, promising young players Dalton Pepper and Dan Jennings both transferred.
Jones will be the centerpiece and the leader of this year's team after the senior took a stab at the NBA draft but decided to return for his final season. Last year Jones was second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.1 points per game, and was the team leader with 7.5 rebounds per game. He was also one of the best offensive rebounders in college basketball, totaling 108 on the year.
Bryant will also have to be a senior leader for the Mountaineers. Truck scored 11.3 points per game last season, third on the team. The senior guard also recorded 95 assists last season and 28 steals, second and first on the team in those categories respectively.
Although Bryant's nickname is "Truck," the name may be more fitting for Kilicli. At 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, Kilicli is a monster down low that also has some solid post moves. Last season the Turkish player started 12 games, averaged 6.6 points per game and was third on the squad with four rebounds per game. How well he can continue to develop this season will be a major factor in West Virginia's success.
After these three players, starting spots and playing time are up for grabs. Most likely Kevin Noreen will crack the starting lineup because of his small but vital amount of experience. The former Mr. Basketball in Minnesota played seven games last season and scored 18 points before suffering a season-ending injury to his knee. The only difficulty of starting Noreen is that it means Huggins will start three power forwards. In 2010, though, West Virginia's Final Four team started three or even four forwards.
Bob Huggins' 2010 recruiting class fared terribly in Morgantown, but he needs this year's class to work out much better in order for West Virginia to be a solid contender this season. As mentioned, Noreen was lost because of a knee injury, ESPNU 100 point-guard Noah Cottrill was dismissed from the school for disorderly conduct, and Darrious Curry was declared medically ineligible.
This year's recruiting class is composed of seven solid recruits. At the top of the class is Jabarie Hinds, who is the ESPN and Rivals No. 20 point guard and is ranked No. 93 nationally in the Rivals 150. According to ESPN.com, he is "a lefty point guard that is very quick and strong for his size." With the departure of Mazzulla, Hinds should start at point guard his first year in Morgantown.
Several of Huggins' recruits should also come off the bench and make an impact. Based on ESPN.com ratings, Aaron Brown, Gary Browne, Tommie McCune and Keaton Miles are all three-star recruits while Pat Forsythe is a two-star recruit. This class is very forward heavy, meaning that the Mountaineers will be lacking guard depth. Besides Hinds and Bryant, Browne is the team's only other guard. Brown and McCune, though, will have the best shot to start throughout the season. As a small forward, Brown would fit in well to the starting lineup and McCune is ranked No. 102 in the Rival 150 and the No. 18 ranked power forward.
West Virginia's chances of defeating some of the best teams in the country, like last year, will depend on how this bevy of young talent will mix with the team's returning players. If they are a cohesive unit, the Mountaineers will be in the top half of a somewhat weakened Big East and could have a shot a Big East title.