West Virginia Mountaineers (Last Year: 26-9, 14-2 in A-10)
2010-11 Projected Depth Chart:
F/C: Deniz Kilicli (So)/Cam Thoroughman (Sr)
F: Kevin Jones (Jr)/Dan Jennings (So)
F: John Flowers (Sr)/Kevin Noreen (Fr)/Darrious Curry (Fr-out for season)
SG: Truck Bryant (Jr)/Casey Mitchell (Sr)/Dalton Pepper (So)/Jonnie West (Sr)
PG: Joe Mazzulla (Sr)/Noah Cottrill (Fr)
Gone: G/F-De'Sean Butler, F- Devin Ebanks, F/C-Wellington Smith
A tremendous season and tourney run came crashing down in an almost symbolic fashion when De'sean Butler tore his ACL against Duke in the Final Four. Now the Mountaineers face the task of replacing Mr. Big Shot, as well as starters Wellington Smith and Devin Ebanks who chose to leave school early for the NBA Draft.
In the past couple of seasons, Bob Huggins has used West Virginia's length, athleticism and the versatility of his student athletes to play multiple positions to cause matchup issues on both ends of the floor. This year, the Mountaineers will have a more basic look.
Huggins will rely on the veteran backcourt of Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant to run the show. Mazzulla is a savvy point guard who is known more for his defensive abilities and basketball IQ. He is not a scorer or a shooter, but is still an invaluable presence on the floor due to his leadership and experience.
Bryant is more offensive-minded and will need to become a more consistent scorer. Long-distance bombers Casey Mitchell and Dalton Pepper will provide depth at the two. Mitchell struggled acclimating himself to the Division I level last season and was temporarily suspended this fall after violating team rules but has recently been re-instated to the team. Freshman Noah Cottrill should immediately see minutes as the backup point guard.
Junior Kevin Jones is expected to make a leap this season and replace Butler as the team's go-to scorer. He will likely be joined in the frontcourt by Andre 3000 look-alike John Flowers who fell out favor during last season seeing a decrease in his minutes and productivity.
Deniz Kilicli is more a true center who can bang down low as opposed to Smith who would stretch defenses with this three-point shooting. Freshman Kevin Noreen will likely contribute right away, while Cam Thoroughman, a.k.a. Johnny Hustle, and the physical Dan Jennings will compete for minutes off the bench. Freshman Darrious Curry would have been in the picture as well but he will not play this season due to a heart condition, putting his basketball future in jeopardy.
This will not be the West Virginia teams of years past. Defensively, they just do not have the same type of athletes they have possessed. But you better believe Bob Huggins will have his team working hard on both ends of the floor and in the thick of the Big East race.
Player to Watch: Kevin Jones, F
The 6-8 Jones made solid strides in his sophomore season and will be asked to take on an even bigger role this season. He is the team's top returning scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter, and will have to pick up some of the scoring void left behind by Butler who was the heart and sole of the team last year. Plus, he is member of my All-Headband team.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/18 vs. Davidson (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/19 vs. Vadnerbilt/Nebraska (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/21 vs. North Carolina/Minnesota/Western Kentucky/Hofstra