West Virginia Mountaineers
Overall Rank: #61
Conference Rank: #9 Big East
2006-07: 27-9, 9-7, 7th (t)
2006-07 postseason: NIT
Coach John Beilein took a group of players that had no expectations and turned West Virginia into a contender in the Big East and a postseason team. Despite returning five of the team’s top six scorers, the absence of Coach Beilein will make the Mountaineers a drastically different looking squad. Coach Bob Huggins will certainly continue the winning ways in Morgantown, but the vastly different style of play will cause some problems until the new coaching staff can get their type of players into the system. There is no doubt that the talent and potential are there, but WVU will have some problems adjusting to their new coach and dealing with another talented Big East conference.
Frank Young averaged a team high 15.3 points. We could say the forward spent too much time shooting the three ball and not enough time getting to the basket, but it is West Virginia and that is what they did and did very well. That will not be the case anymore and Coach Huggins would have liked to have a player like Rob Summers on his team; the only player who could not hit a three-pointer and rarely tried. During his senior year Summers started all 36 games and averaged 4.4 points and a team high 4.6 rebounds. Team high 4.6 rebounds is another phrase that will not be uttered in Morgantown during the Bob Huggins era. And, if it is, the Mountaineers are not winning many games. After the coaching change, Devan Bawinkel, who averaged 1.8 points in 20 games last year, opted to transfer.
Heading into last season, WVU had a ton of newcomers. Three of the incoming freshmen redshirted last year and shooting guard Jonnie West, small forward Cam Thoroughman and power forward Jacob Green will look for minutes off the bench this year. Green, at 6-9 and 220 pounds will likely make the biggest impact of the trio. Walk-on sophomore Josh Sowards will suit up for the Mountaineers this year as well after redshirting last season. All of the redshirts are fine, but the big time impact newcomers are the incoming freshmen. Guard Cameron Payne will not make a big impact right away, but that is not the case with John Flowers and William Thomas. Flowers, a 6-7 forward who was recruited by the previous regime, will add more athleticism to the roster. He is not the best shooter in the world, but has an amazing wingspan and will get to the basket. At 6-5 and with a scoring mentality, Thomas can be a shooting guard. But he also has great court vision and could be called upon to run the point. He will likely be utilized off the bench at both positions for now.
Who to Watch:
Alex Ruoff and Darris Nichols are a formidable, albeit underappreciated, backcourt duo. They are both decent shooters from long range and averaged over ten points and four assists per game last year. Neither Ruoff nor Nichols played much in 2005-2006, but stepped right into a starting role last year and never looked back. Ruoff, listed as a 6-6 forward, is a solid defender and did lead the team with 2.3 steals per contest during the 2006-2007 season. Joe Mazzulla will not step up and make a Ruoff and Nichols type impact, but the little used guard is ready for a breakout season. The 6-2 sophomore is a good athlete and could be a major beneficiary of the new style of play.
Like Ruoff and Nichols, Joe Alexander went from benchwarmer to superstar in one season. The 6-8 junior averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last year and while he is nowhere near a post player, Alexander may end up spending some time at the center position. That, however, will depend on the development of Jamie Smalligan. If Smalligan continues to gain strength and intensity, the seven foot senior could become a banger under the basket, not just a big guy who can shoot. Da’Sean Butler had a terrific freshman year averaging 10.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He is a good shooter and great athlete and with the Coach Huggins strength program well under way, Butler will be hard to stop when he starts driving to the basket. Wellington Smith did not see much playing time last year, but he has a ton of potential and could end up starting at power forward if Alexander needs to replace Smalligan at center and Coach Huggins can live with a smaller lineup.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Darris Nichols, Senior, Guard, 10.9 points per game
Alex Ruoff, Junior, Forward, 10.3 points per game
Da’Sean Butler, Sophomore, Forward, 10.1 points per game
Joe Alexander, Junior, Forward, 10.3 points per game
Jamie Smalligan, Senior, Center, 5.4 points per game