The West Virginia Mountaineers are a team that both feels good about themselves, and has some realistic expectations. They have advanced to the NCAA tournament 5 years in a row, a school record, and should get there again this year. However, it will likely be a one and done if they do make it. Many major ranking organizations predict they will finish 6th in the Big 12. No one would suggest that is horrible, especially considering what they lost in the offseason, but hopefully it won't be too bumpy of a ride.
There is going to be a transition period for this team as they get used to playing without Kevin Jones, who led the Big East in PPG (19.9) and RPG (10.9). Yet, coach Bob Huggins hopes that with the addition of Aaric Murray, a transfer from La Salle, things won't be as tough as they could be. Murray averaged 13.7 PPG and 7.2 RPG over two seasons before he transferred to West Virginia. Murray "can be a factor at the rim at both ends of the court," Huggins said. "He's running so much better, he'll be able to transition better. He shoots the ball well. We'll be able to do some of the same things with him that we did with Kevin." And already we can see not only part of the upcoming plan, but also part of what separates the elite coaches from everyone else: understanding your team. No matter how big of a loss Kevin jones is, he's gone. Work with the players you still have ad get the most out of them. Deniz Kilicli is going to be the other threat inside. He was third on the team in scoring last season, but needs to add some offensive repertoire to his game. He has a sweeping left hand hook shot that can be effective, but he also likes to foul. If he tightens up a little, he can work wonders for the Mountaineers.
Matt Humphrey is a newcomer from Boston College who may end up in the starting lineup. Huggins is definitely a fan of experience and he has the most on the team. There is also a chance that he could start three guards though.
AS much as Huggins likes Humphrey, Juwan Staten may end up being the key to the team. "He passes the ball so well," Huggins says. "He helps us get easy baskets. He can get it in the lane, he has good speed and good speed with the ball." Reports have been coming out of the locker room that Staten has stepped up as the team leader. Jabarie Hinds returns as a sophomore after a somewhat disappointing freshman season. He averaged only 7.4 PPG and shot a lowly 41.9% from the field. "He's gotten a lot better," says the coach. "He's worked on his shooting, plus he can get into the lane." Lets hope the coach is telling the truth and not just trying to be optimistic. The Mountaineers need to shore up their perimeter shooting and much of the hope for that rests with Hinds. If he can't step up the only other one on the roster who may be able to is freshman Terry Henderson.
Moving to the Big 12 will be a test for West Virginia. The team has high hopes, and they should fare better than the football team initially, but there may be a learning curve. The Big East was a good division so they are likely prepared well. The success or failure of their season will ultimately rest with whether or not Murray and Kilicli can play well together. That, and whether or not they can get some perimeter scoring.