August 30th, 2006
Basketball Preview: West Virginia
The critical question facing Coach John Beilein is how does a team replace
five seniors who, combined, contributed 58.6 ppg, 18.9 rpg, and 13.5 apg.
The answer, obviously, is, "It ain't gonna be easy."
Only one starter returns along with only one reserve who averaged more than
four minutes per game. Frank Young played the 4 even though he's only 6'5".
He was usually the team's fourth option on offense. He averaged 7.4 ppg, a
number which has to climb into at least the 10-12 ppg range this year. The
problem is he's not only undersized for the 4, he's not a superior athlete,
like his counterparts Sam Young at Pitt or Jeff Adrien at UConn, to offset
his height disadvantage. Nor is he a good enough perimeter shooter (31% on
treys) to pull defenses out. Heís also a below-average rebounder; he
averaged only 3.5 rpg on a team that desperately needed rebounding.
The other primary returnee is point guard Darris Nichols, who averaged 13.4
mpg backing up J. D. Collins last year. He's very quick, and he takes care
of the ball (an impressive turnover- to-assist ratio of 3.9/1.0). He's not
much of a scorer (3.1 ppg) though he was almost always the last option on
offense when he was in the game. Then again, there was probably a reason for
that, like his shooting percentages of 38% overall and a ghastly 22% from
behind the arc. Granted, with shooters like Gansey, Pittsnogle, and Beilein
WVU didnít need scoring from the point. But that trio is gone, and now the
Mountaineers do. Nichols was a prolific scorer in high school and is quick
enough to get to the hoop. He could become a double-figure scorer this
season, but that will happen only if he looks for his shot and improves his
other returning player averaged even four mpg as Beilein went primarily with
a seven-man rotation by necessity. One of two sophomores, Joe Alexander or
Alex Ruoff, could start at the 3, but more likely both will continue to come
off the bench. Alexander could also back up Young at the 4 even though he
carries only 200 pounds on his 6'8" frame.
Robb Summers, a 7'0" transfer from Penn State, also returns, but he played
only 3.8 mpg last year, and he wasn't particularly effective when he did see
the court. Most telling was the fact that he averaged one rebound every
nine minutes of playing time, not exactly a glowing recommendation for a
seven footer. I don't see him starting this year at the 5, though he will
certainly get more playing time than last season.
The most likely prospect to start at center is another transfer, Jamie Smalligan, who started 30 games at Butler
over two seasons. He should fit well
into Beileinís offensive system because heís a good shooter (39.6% on treys
two years ago). Heís not going to make Mountaineer fans forget Pittsnogle,
but he should force opponents to honor his shot thereby extending the
defense and setting up WVUís patented back-door cuts. Now, whether he can
defend some of the conference's upper echelon centers is an interesting
The primary cause for hope in Morgantown revolves around a couple of
incoming freshmen. The highest ranked recruit is DaíSean Butler, a 6'6"
small forward. Scout ranked him #68 overall, while Hoopmasters had him at
#103, PrepStars at #121, and Rivals at #147. Those aren't exactly glowing
numbers, especially compared to those of numerous other recruits entering
the conference, but at least Butler did gain some national notice. He is a
good athlete and a very intelligent player, which he'll need to be to play
in Beilein's system. However, he also fits the system in that he is an
excellent outside shooter. One area he needs to improve - rebounding - is
something WVU will desperately need again this year. Butler is very thin,
and he'll have to add some weight and strength, but the Mountaineers don't
have enough experienced talent to wait for him to develop. By the start of
the conference season at the very latest, he should start at the 3 and get a
minimum of 24-25 mpg.
The other likely starter among the freshmen is Devan Bawinkel, a 6'5"
shooting guard with the emphasis on "shooting." HoopScoop ranked him #122
overall on their list of 125, PrepStars ranked him #142 on their list of
150, and Hoopmasters had him #178 on their list of 200. Beilein has had
tremendous success with players just like Bawinkel - guys who were not
highly ranked but could shoot and were court savvy. The difference is those
players were juniors and seniors when they were successful, while Bawinkel
and Butler are frosh.
Among the other frosh, Joe Mazzulla will back up Nichols since there doesn't
seem to be any other true point guard on the roster. He's quick but not a
very good shooter. Wellington Smith, 6'7", who has a reputation as a
quality shooter, could see some minutes on the wing.
bottom line is that only Young has proven himself to be a high-major player.
No one else has yet shown the ability to play at that level, though some
certainly will demonstrate that this year.
There is also one other critical concern for Mountaineer fans - the
complexity of Beilein's system. It is not easy for veterans to master, let
alone freshmen. His teams the past two years ran his offense to
near-perfection and at times they were a work of art, beautiful to watch.
However, those teams were dominated by juniors and seniors. This yearís
team will rely heavily on freshmen, sophomores, and transfers.
has recruited the type of player he foresees eventually fitting into his
system, but it's a long shot they'll be able to run it proficiently in
WVU will have difficulty qualifying for the conference tournament this
year. Although Beilein is an excellent coach, this team is simply too young
and too inexperienced to finish among the top twelve. Two years from now,
itíll be a different story in Morgantown. In the meantime, WVU fans will
have to be patient.
Predicted Finish: 15 of 16