West Virginia Basketball Preview: #7
Overall Rank: #7
Conference Rank: #2 Big East Conference
2008-09: 23-12, 10-8
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Bob Huggins (49-23 at West Virginia, 639-234 overall)
Coach Bob Huggins has been bringing his type of players into West Virginia and those players are now experienced veterans. Only one player is gone from a team that went 23-12 overall and 10-8 in a very difficult Big East conference. The Big East will not be as good as it was last year and the Mountaineers will be much better.
Key Losses: G Alex Ruoff
The biggest issue in this recruiting class is replacing Alex Ruoff at the shooting guard spot. Coach Huggins did just about as well as he could with the addition of the much acclaimed junior college transfer Casey Mitchell. The National Junior College Player of the Year is a superb shooter and could immediately replace the impressive shooting of Ruoff. This group needs some depth on the perimeter too and the versatile Dalton Pepper is just what the doctor ordered. The newcomers up front will find it more difficult to find playing time, but Deniz Kilicli should be a great player in a year or two and Danny Jennings is a physical presence under the basket.
The point guard position looked good for a while when freshman Darryl Bryant replaced the injured Joe Mazzulla seven games into the 2008-2009 season. Everybody expected both to be back, but some off the court issues made their return questionable. However, both have been cleared to play and that gives the Mountaineers two superb ball handlers. Bryant will use his strength to get to the basket, but he is also a decent shooter. Mazzulla will not score as much, but he is a better distributor at this point in his career. Due to a lack of depth on the perimeter, do not be surprised if both are playing at the same time during certain situations.
This is where WVU gets really good. Wellington Smith, Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks all started at least 34 games last year and should once again find themselves in the starting lineup, although younger players will be pushing them for minutes. Smith will not put up eye popping numbers, but he is the prototypical glue guy. Butler led the team in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game last season and is one of the most dangerous inside-outside players in the nation. Sixth man Kevin Jones was very productive when he could find minutes and John Flowers is an active forward who can score in bunches.
Who to Watch:
Yet, it is Ebanks who is the emerging star of this team. As a freshman he averaged 10.5 points and a team high 7.8 rebounds and those numbers should go up with a year of experience. More importantly, Ebanks is tilting the scales at about 220 pounds now as opposed to about 195 pounds when he arrived in Morgantown. That extra strength will make him a dominating player in a frontcourt that should dominate most teams.
Thanks to the return of Bryant and Mazzulla, West Virginia has everything it needs to win the Big East. Even if it takes the newcomers some time to adjust to the level of play, Bryant and Mazzulla can do enough to get the ball to the forwards. Having Mitchell emerge as a consistent outside shooter would be beneficial, but Butler and Bryant are both capable shooters and can stretch out the defense enough to give space to Ebanks under the basket.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Joe Mazzula, Junior, Guard, 5.6 points per game
Casey Mitchell, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Wellington Smith, Senior, Forward, 5.2 points per game
Da’Sean Butler, Senior, Forward, 17.1 points per game
Devin Ebanks, Sophomore, Forward, 10.5 points per game
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