West Virginia will be the biggest unknown in the league. Bob Huggins is a coach that knows how to win. He has a roster that he calls his deepest at West Virginia. There are three transfers expected to make a big impact and some good returning players.
There are challenges. One of the biggest challenges is geographic. They will be traveling to nine road locations during the conference season that are not next door to their campus. In addition, they are used to playing Big East opponents in NBA arenas. In the Big12, they will face opponents on their campuses which includes lots of fervent fan bases.
Of course, they do have the advantage of hosting teams that will be traveling to Morgantown in the winter- which could present weather challenges in addition to a very tough place to win.
Bob Huggins has a coaching record of 709-268. His teams have been known for defense and rebounding. They are always one of the top offensive rebounding teams in college basketball. Despite losing one of the top rebounders in college basketball in Kevin Jones, West Virginia's strength this year is likely to be defense and rebounding.
Huggins has made the NCAA tournament 19 out of the last 20 years. The only year that he missed was the one year he coached Kansas State in 2006-07. He will feel like he has a lot to prove in West Virginia's first year in the league.
His staff consists of Larry Harrison- who has been with Huggins a total of 14 years; Ron Everhart- who was the head coach at Duquesne and Northeastern over the last 10 years and Erik Martin- a former player for Huggins who has been with him for six years.
6-1 190 lbs Juwan Staten (SO)
Staten comes to West Virginia after transferring from Dayton. At Dayton, he averaged 9 points and 5 assists. He turned it over almost 3 times per game. He's not a great shooter- 39% from the field; 60% from the foul line. He only took 26 three pointers as a freshman but he hit the mark only 4 times (15%). He got to the foul line around 3 times per game. His strengths are distributing and defense.
5-11 185 lbs Jabarie Hinds (SO)
Hinds had an up and down freshman year. He averaged 7 points and 3 assists but had 2 turnovers per game. His shooting numbers weren't great- 42% from the field and 32% from 3 point range. He was 61% from the foul line- 1.5 attempts per game. He did average 1.4 steals. His best game was against Baylor in a 83-81 overtime loss. He was 7-11 from the field (4-5 from 3); 3 rebounds; 7 assists and only 2 turnovers. Staten will likely be the starter due to his ability to distribute but Hinds should be in the rotation.
6-1 190 lbs Gary Browne (FR)
Browne averaged numbers that were similar to Hinds: 7 points; 3 assists; 2 turnovers while shooting 43% from the field and 66% from the foul line. He rebounds well for a guard (4 per game) and is considered the best perimeter defender. The competition for minutes will be fierce between Staten, Browne and Hinds at the point guard spot.
6-5 200 lbs Matt Humphrey (SR)
This is Humphrey's 3rd team in four seasons. He started at Oregon- coming out of high school as a top 100 recruit. He then transferred to Boston College where he averaged 10 points and 3 rebounds. But he shot 35% from the field and 31% from 3. So he is a shooting guard that doesn't shoot very well. Huggins likes his basketball IQ and defense. He got to the line less than 3 attempts per game.
6-5 220 lbs Aaron Brown (SO)
It would not be surprising to see Brown emerge as the primary shooting guard if Humphrey struggles. Huggins speaks fondly of his effort and desire to improve. He says that he is a gym rat. He is a strong physical player that has a decent touch from the perimeter. Truck Bryant played heavy minutes last year which limited his opportunities. Brown averaged 4 points and 2 rebounds. He shot 39% from 3 point range.
6-3 190 lbs Terry Henderson (FR)
Henderson is a good shooter. He will likely not see much time on this year's team however. He needs to gain strength.
6-2 190 lbs Eron Harris (FR)
Harris is a good athlete. Like Henderson, Harris will probably not see the court much this year. He will need to develop his strength and tighten up his ball handling and turnovers before he becomes a regular part of Huggins rotation.
6-7 210 lbs Keaton Miles (SO)
Miles had a tough adjustment to D1 basketball in a major conference. He is athletic but last year was not strong enough to be very effective. Miles averaged 1.4 points and 2 rebounds per game. He has the potential to be a good, versatile defender and a guy that can score in transition or off the glass.
6-10 250 lbs Kevin Noreen (SO)
Noreen is a guy that Huggins likes a lot. He was logging a lot of minutes before he went down with a foot injury. Huggins values his help defense and his ability to make sure the offense flows well. In other words, classic glue guy. He averaged 2 points and 3 rebounds.
6-9 260 lbs Deniz Kilicli(SR)
Kilicli is a physical beast on the blocks who has a nice jump hook but at times can play too aggressive. He has a tendency to foul. He averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds. He shot 50% from the field. His foul shooting is an adventure- 56%. He struggled down the stretch however. He only averaged 6 points in his last 5 Big East games. His rebounding numbers are also puzzling.
For as strong as he is, he should be a dominant rebounder. He got to the foul line- 4 attempts per game. But only 4 attempts in his last 5 Big East games.
6-10 245 lbs Aaric Murray (JR)
Murray comes to West Virginia from LaSalle. He was one of the top players statistically in the Atlantic 10. He averaged 15 points; 8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks as a sophomore. He has NBA talent and length- 7'3" wingspan. I watched him live when LaSalle came to Waco to play Baylor. In that game, he did well offensively- 17 points and 9 rebounds. But his defense was suspect. Quincy Acy had 25 points and 11 rebounds in leading Baylor to 10 point victory without their leading scorer (Lace Dunn). Several of those buckets were simple show and go dunks that Murray did not defend well. He likes to shoot 3's also. He shot 143 three pointers at LaSalle- he made a decent amount (36%) but I would bet West Virginia prefers to see him on the blocks.
He will have to play good defense for Huggins or it is going to be a volatile relationship. His body language was not good in the games I watched him. His coach at LaSalle said that Murray doesn't really enjoy the sport all that much. He has the potential to be an NBA player, we will see if Huggins can bring out the potential.
6-8 245 lbs Dominique Rutledge (SR)
Rutledge was a guy that wasn't used much as a junior but he's an outstanding rebounder. He almost helped beat Baylor with his activity on the boards and around the rim. He was called for a questionable foul call on one of his offensive rebounds that ended up being a decisive play in that game- he had 8 points; 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in 10 minutes against Baylor. In the last 5 games, his minutes increased. He responded with 7 rebounds per game. If Murray ends up in Huggins doghouse, Rutledge is a physical rebounder/defender that should give valuable minutes.
6-10 240 lbs Volodymyr Gerun (SO)
Huggins latest Euro big man comes from the Ukraine. He is suspended for the first 6 games due to playing a few games with a professional team. He averaged 18 points; 11 rebounds and 2 blocks for the U-18 Ukrainian national team. That team went 0-3 in the preliminary rounds, so Ukraine played the rest of their games in the loser's bracket. He averaged 8 points; 4 rebounds; 3 turnovers against the two best teams in that tournament- Lithuania and Russia. So the stats are a bit deceptive because they came in 6 games against weaker competition- Greece, Czech Republic and Finland. Hard to project his impact in the Big12 but probably not as good as Kilicli.
Outlook and Questions
Huggins plays a physical style of play that is similar to Kansas State- not surprising since Frank Martin was a Bob Huggins disciple. It worked well for Martin at KSU. And it has worked well for Huggins at West Virginia- he was 54-36 in a tough Big East conference.
Five questions for West Virginia heading into the season:
1. Transfers can be hit or miss. West Virginia is counting on 3 for big production this year: Humphrey; Staten and Murray. Murray is the one that will age a coach quickly. Unique talent but has a history of being a first class knucklehead. Will Murray get focused for a season that can catapult him to the NBA or will he leave West Virginia fans counting the days until he uses up his eligibility?
2. How will the style of play translate to the Big 12? If West Virginia can impose their will, they could beat up less physical teams in their new conference. But there could be issues with foul trouble and their bigs being able to keep up with better athletes who run the floor well. How much the refs allow in terms of physicality can go a long way towards determining their success.
3. Who is going to make an outside shot? West Virginia was one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in the country last year. Adding poor outside shooters like Humphrey and Staten won't solve their issues there. Who will emerge as the shooters on this team?
4. How mentally tough will this team be? The travel is a potential handicap. Can this team win games on the road and protect their home court against the better teams in the league?
5. Who is going to score in the clutch? When West Virginia needed buckets the last couple of years, Bryant and Jones were the ones that delivered. Who will be willing to take big shots from the backcourt? Will Murray be a go to guy with games on the line? Will Kilicli stay out of foul trouble in big games?