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.)