Blog Entry

Big East Preview 16, West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted on: November 13, 2008 5:20 pm
Like the state itself, the Mountaineers usually get no love until after the fact.  Every year it seems the coaches pick them to finish several spots below where they finish.  Every year they are better than the prognosticators say they are.  They are well-coached and there is some new talent there to replace the old.  This year, the coaches picked them ninth.  Can they best the mark set for them yet again?  See what I have to say below.

24-10 Overall, 11-7 Big East (6th)
Lost in Big East tournament semifinal round (Georgetown)
Eliminated in Sweet Sixteen by Xavier


Joe Alexander              F
Jarret Brown                G
DeSean Butler             F
John Flowers               F
Jacob Green                F
Darris Nichols             G
Joe Mazzula                 G
Alex Ruoff                     G
Jamie Smalligan        C
Wellington Smith        F
Josh Sowards             F
Ted Talkington            G
Will Thomas                G
Cam Thoroughman   F
Jonnie West                G


Alexander, Nichols, Smalligan, Talkington, Brown, Green

Joe Alexander got hot at the right time for himself and his team, turning himself into a lottery pick.  Everyone is talking about his departure.  What has gone somewhat under the radar is the loss of Nichols, meaning the Mountaineers lose double-figures scorers both in the paint and outside the arc.  The others are negligible.


Dee Proby        C  (JUCO transfer)   Well, the Mountaineers lack a true center, so he will help in that regard, but I doubt he's an improvement over Smalligan to any great degree.  It's just that I don't see a JUCO transfer going head to head with the Harangody, Thabeet, Blair, Samuels, etc. type players in this conference.

Darryl Bryant     G
Devin Ebanks   F
Kevin Jones      F
Cam Payne       G

That's a class the vast majority of teams in the country would and should envy.  It starts with Ebanks, ranked third nationally among SF prospects, and he has the talent to be better than Alexander.  The question is how fast he reaches his potential.  As with the departures, there's another guy among the newcomers being overlooked (I believe to most folks' error).  Kevin Jones is the 11th ranked PF, and will make a solid 1-2 punch up front in the years to come (assuming Ebanks sticks around).  I'm less high on the two new guards, especially alk-on Payne.  Proby may be a contributor, but I doubt he's ready to step up just yet.  One final note:  these are Huggins's recruits, and considering what he did with mostly someone else's players last year...

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:     Elon, Longwood, Delaware State, Iowa, Mississippi, Cleveland State, Davidson, Duquesne, Miami (OH), Radford, Ohio State, Marshall

Davidson, OSU, and Cleveland State make this a very tough ooc lineup.  There are plenty of cake games, but if WVU wins two of those three they will have made a very strong case for themselves.

Two Time Opponents:     Pittsburgh, Louisville, South Florida

I don't think that's as bad as it looks.  They get possibly the easiest team in the Big East, and the other two are rivalries.  They should sweep South Florida, and a split with Pittsburgh, Louisville, or both is very possible.

Remaining Roadies:     Seton Hall, Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse, Rutgers, Cincinnati

Home Games:     Connecticut, St. John's, Providence, Villanova, Notre Dame, DePaul

To make up for home and homes with two of the heavyweights, the Mountaineers play the other two at home.  That road slate is consequently more manageable than most teams get in this league.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Ebanks starts strong and only gets better, helped by DeSean Butler and Kevin Jones to make a formidable frontcourt, even without a natural center.  Ruoff stays hot all year, and gets help from increased production from Joe Mazzula due to some extra minutes for him.  The rest of the roster comes in and plays with energy, making WVU deeper than they look on paper.  They continue the trend of knocking off at least one heavily favored team in the noncon slate (they missed last year until Duke in the Sweet 16, but previously: UCLA, Texas, LSU, Maryland, Florida dating back to '01-'02) in Davidson, and they manage to take down Cleveland State and Ohio State as well.  They go 4-2 in the Big East home and homes, losing only one home game in conference.  They add 3 or 4 road wins in the remaining slate, taking them to 12-6 or 13-5 in the league.  That's probably good for fourth or fifth place and a good seed in the BE tourney, where they show well.  Suddenly, WV is a 5 seed in the NCAAs and does not disappoint, representing the conference in another Sweet Sixteen if not more.

Worst Case Scenario:
    Though talented, the freshman class takes some time to warm up to NCAA competition.  It turns out that Ruoff and Mazzula were already giving about the best they could, and so little improvement comes from there.  The role players are not good enough, so when the starters have to take a seat they lose ground to their opponents.  This results in losses in two out of the three competitive nonconference games, and possibly even another ooc loss that shouldn't happen.  They get swept by both Louisville and Pittsburgh, losing as well to both Connecticut and Notre Dame at home.  They lose one more home game, and a couple on the road they shouldn't, dropping them to the neighborhood of 11-7 in conference.  With that resume, they are left out of the dance.  Theys ee what they can do in the NIT and CBI, and prepare for a resurgence in 2009-2010.

My Take:
     Be it known that I expect few teams to match the best or worst case scenarios I have provided.  West Virginia is no exception.  I like Ruoff, Butler, and Mazula as returning players, and think that Devin Ebanks will have an immediate positive impact.  I doubt he matches Joe Alexander's production right away, but he will be a better player at some point in his career.  It is worth noting that even Alexander wasn't as productive until late in the season, so if Ebanks progresses all year he could be right there in February/March.  The rest of the recruiting class I think is better than it's getting credit for.  Jones should add depth at least up front, and Proby will at least be a body in the middle.  The things I doubt about this team are 1) real depth at guard and 2) the ability to maintain the tenacious defense they had last year with the list of departing players.  Still, they look poised to me to finish better than the coaches predict once again.  I can't put them much higher than 7th or 8th until I see for sure the product on the court, but I wouldn't be surprised if they made a move higher than that when the dust clears.  Know that I don't consider an 8th place finish in the Big East unworthy...the 8th best team is going to be a very good one.

Since: Aug 31, 2007
Posted on: November 14, 2008 11:17 am

Big East Preview 16, West Virginia Mountaineers

 Pittbaster, Again great job on the look into the Mountaineers. I believe the one thing that will set this team apart is the speed at which they will play the game, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They will give the advantage away down low but will terrorize the guards up top and that will have the effect Huggins needs to avoid the block play. Ebanks I agree will have an impact but I am leaning toward a similar learning curve much like Alexander's last year. If that does happen as you say we will be well suited for the run at the end.

  Louisville and Pitt I believe are splits this year, ND and Conn. are beatable for us as well. I think the trouble may come in the OC schedule in teams that will be trying to make names for themselves and play above the norm. I like the way we will match in the Big East overall and am glad to have the Home games we have.

  Last, Da'Sean Butler will be the guy who will really set the tone for this team early on. Rouff will absolutely be solid and Mazzulla is a scrapper that will drive the guys up top nuts. But Butler has the ability to enter this year and become the one who fills the scoring hole left by Alexander. I see us finishing about where we were last year, and again having a good run in the Field of 64.

 From one Martinsburg native to another, thanks for your hard work on this and great analysis.

Since: Jan 15, 2007
Posted on: November 14, 2008 9:56 am

Big East Preview 16, West Virginia Mountaineers

What you say about size is interesting...

If WVU defensively concedes some points to the top big men in the league, and really puts pressure on the other scorers (for example McAlarney for ND, Young for Pitt) they could be more effective than they appear.  I think that's an ability some of the other teams (Nova, Marquette, Providence, maybe even Syracuse) might lack.  That whole list has a lot of talent but relies on all forwards up front instead of a center.

That could give WVU a surprise edge over those teams, both head to head and in the matchups with the teams that are thicker up front.  Of course, at this point that's just conjecture, and anybody might have some advantage I haven't even thought of, but it's another reason to think WV will be in the top half of the league.

For the record, I as a Pitt fan go so soft on WVU because I grew up in Martinsburg (Eastern Panhandle) and so until I chose a school I was a WVU fan (well, as much as I followed college sports at all).  I had a lot of family go to WVU, and a large part of my graduating class, and so for me it was always a more friendly rivalry than for most.  So that's why you usually don't see me slinging mud, lol.  That all led to some frustration...I went to Pitt for 5 years, and I think we only won in football then the very year I left we win, and it knocks you out of the national title.  I was like "Oh come on, couldn't we have won when it mattered to our own team instead?"

Since: Jan 17, 2008
Posted on: November 14, 2008 9:33 am

Big East Preview 16, West Virginia Mountaineers

So after commenting on virtually all of your previews of the other teams it finally comes down to my own.... Oh, and by the by, thanks again for all the great work putting these previews together....

I think you hit the nail on the head with Kevin Jones being a huge contributor on this team along with Ebanks.... They will be one and two on the depth chart at 4. Wellington Smith will start at the 5. He is a very good defender and shot blocker. Last season he handled some of the conference bigs pretty well despite his lack of height and he will be better this year... HIs weight it up.

Ruoff, Butler, Wellington, KJ and all much thicker than they were last year. Ruoff wills tart the season at 220and Jones around 240 this season just for an example.

That means this team goes 6'2, 6'6, 6'7, 6'9, 6'8 across the line... Now that roster obviously lacks a true center as you said, it is bigger and thicker than it was last year. The backups run 6'0, 6'5, 6'7, 6'8, 6'10 so there are a ton of guys with decent size just no horse... I understand that this can be a big problem this year in the BE, but hopefully we can find some mismatches to offset our own defensive mismatches...

The Mounties will run 10 or 12 deep so you are right that they are deeper than they first appear...

This team is a group of extremely humble, hard working players and always has been. This year though they have a lot of talent that is both experienced and fresh to add into that equation... I will be very surprised if they do finish 9th in the BE, now I don't know which teams they will "upset" to get there, but I would be very surprised....

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