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All things considered, WVU season a success

THE 2011-12 West Virginia men's basketball team has been dissected more than a frog in science class since its 77-54 meltdown to Gonzaga in Thursday's NCAA tournament game.

In Saturday's Gazette-Mail, Dave Hickman got to the root of the Mountaineers' downfall: 3-point shooting, the worst in school history.

That leaves just one question: Was this 19-14 WVU team a success or failure?

The answer: a success considering the circumstances coach Bob Huggins could not control.

The circumstances are not excuses. They are facts.

Examine the 2010 recruiting class. The coach signed Poca-Mountain State-Logan standout Noah Cottrill, a four-star guard, before having to toss him off the team. (Last December, Cottrill was charged with possession of a controlled substance and petit larceny and taken to the Southwestern Regional Jail.) Darrious Curry, a 6-foot-7 forward from Houston, was expected to help the Mountaineers immediately after the Final Four team, but he was ruled medically ineligible. ("He was the best player of that group," said one Mountaineer coach.) Seven-footer David Nyarsuk of Mountain State was academically ineligible.

Then there was Kevin Noreen. If you talk to those on WVU's coaching staff, they'll tell you the loss of the Minnesota native to injury was a bigger blow than many realize. ("It killed us," said one.) The reason is no other player could sufficiently spell, fill in for or push center Deniz Kilicli, who needed to be spelled, filled in for and pushed. Before the Jan. 30 game in which Noreen injured his right knee, the Mountaineers were 15-7. They had defeated Georgetown and Cincinnati. After Noreen's injury, they were 4-7.

Draw your own conclusion there. Understand, though, Noreen originally signed with Boston College and gained his release after Al Skinner was fired. He had programs like Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Arkansas and Providence after him in the wake. In the 23 games in which he did play for WVU, his numbers were better than those of junior college transfer Dom Rutledge (especially in the area of turnovers), who did back up Kilicli.

From this viewpoint, though, the main culprit in WVU's downturn was a lack of competition within the team. Noreen's situation is but an example. When he fell away, Kilicli relaxed. (To address a rumor, by the way, those close to the situation say Kilicli isn't leaving the team.)

Truck Bryant? Huggins had to keep him on the floor shooting because Cottrill wasn't around. Nor was 6-5 Dalton Pepper, a rather prolific 3-point shooter who left the team last year to be closer to his ill father, who resides near Philadelphia. Pepper sat out this season and will play for Temple next season.

Much should change next season for WVU. It might be a bit harsh, but the biggest addition might be the subtraction of Bryant. Many of his decisions weren't only destructive to the team's chances in any given game, but also set bad examples for his young teammates.

But back to the team competition. Next season the ideal situation for Huggins would be to start 6-10 transfer Aaric Murray at power forward and an improved Kilicli at center. If, however, Kilicli won't listen to Huggins, the coach will have the ability to hold the player's feet to the proverbial fire.

Murray can play center. Noreen will be back. Pat Forsythe should return after a back injury and a redshirt season. And don't forget about incoming 6-9, 230-pound rock Elijah Macon of Huntington Prep. If Kilicli won't listen or improve, Huggins can find him a seat on the bench. (Word is, however, Murray's passing ability will help Kilicli.)

There will also be competition in the backcourt. Juwan Staten, the Dayton transfer, will challenge (and probably win) a starting spot. Recruit Terry Henderson will have to give the Mountaineers an outside shooting lift. There's recruit Eron Harris.

WVU starter Jabarie Hinds will have to improve his game. Ditto Gary Browne, who showed much hustle but still needs work.

Players like Keaton Miles, Aaron Brown, Rutledge and fan favorite Paul Williamson will have to improve and fight for spots and playing time.

That's a plus for Huggins. It's the competition within his team lacked this season. Which is why, when you consider the circumstances, one has to consider a 19-14 season and NCAA tournament appearances a success.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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