Basketball team moving forward
West Virginia University's Basketball Team fell to 16-8 overall and 5-6 in the Big East Conference following a 70-59 loss at Pitt on Monday night.
Already some fans seem to be impatient with the team's progress. The suggestion here is to have more patience.
Sure, having a losing record in conference is not the ideal scenario fans would want, but remember just how potent this conference is that this young WVU team is playing in. They have lost at home to top ranked UCONN, twice to Pitt which has an RPI of two and road losses to Marquette, Louisville and Syracuse.
I suppose it could be argued that the Mountaineers don't have a signature conference win, Georgetown may have fallen from that list, but they still have chances for those. The thing is, most teams in the country would struggle to have a better record than WVU does facing this schedule. That is why West Virginia still has an RPI in the 20's, at least going into the Pitt game.
WVU has handled the teams it was supposed to and has been competitive in the losses even though the final scores may not indicate as much. The Marquette game is an example where a 22 point loss was competitive for 30 minutes. West Virginia actually was in control in the first half behind Da'Sean Butler's scoring. Foul trouble in the second half kept Butler on the bench and scoreless in the final 20 minutes. WVU's chance to win seemingly stayed with Butler.
On Monday night, foul trouble sent WVU's two leading scorers, Butler and Alex Ruoff, to the bench early. That is very hard to survive in an environment like Pitt's, but the young guys tried to step up. The task was just too much against a very solid and veteran Pitt team.
Oh yes, the youth. While Pitt is senior laden, West Virginia's Ruoff is the lone senior on the roster. Coach Bob Huggins has been forced to use three freshmen extensively. He starts two of them. While the three freshmen were much heralded and promise to live up to their advance billing, there have been growing pains to be sure.
Devin Ebanks is the most advanced of the frosh. He is a skinny 6-9 kid who will be off to the pros as soon as the work in the weight room takes effect.
Mountaineer fans will want two more years of Ebanks, but may not get more than one. Still, Ebanks has yet to become a consistent scoring threat, though he showed good signs in that area at Pitt on Monday. Thing is, if Joe Alexander had decided to return instead of being a benchwarmer, albeit a rich one, in the NBA, Ebanks would have been brought on more slowly.
Where the biggest impact of inconsistent play from a freshman has surfaced is at the point guard position. Truck Bryant has had a tough time of it.
Don't read too much into that statement. It was not intended to be harsh, but it is accurate, and not really Bryant's fault. The season ending shoulder injury to junior Joe Mazzulla left Huggins with Bryant as his only point guard. As talented as Bryant is, the Big East is just loaded with experienced players at the point. Simply put, Bryant has had some inconsistent outings.
Not having Mazzulla forces Huggins to leave Bryant in games at times when he could learn very much from sitting on the bench. Now when he does sit he watches an offense which is designed to cover up the absence of a point guard. The situation messes up the learning curve for Bryant.
WVU fans have come to expect solid play at the point, what with having J. D. Collins and Darris Nichols in the fold over the last five years. Those guys weren't flashy and weren't particularly offensive minded, but they took care of the ball. Both had assist to turnover ratios that were always among the league's leaders. Bryant, and Mazzulla too, are more offensive minded and like to penetrate and create. The style lends itself to a few more turnovers, but having a scoring threat at the point is a good trade off when it is under control. That will come.
What is important now is to keep winning the games they are supposed to win and get at least one signature win on their resume. West Virginia's first opportunity for that will be this Friday against Villanova at home in another nationally televised game on ESPN. It is a late game with the tip coming at 9 p.m. It is purely a guess, but five wins in the last seven should secure an NCAA appearance. With their solid RPI a 9-9 conference slate could be good enough, but that would create a number of scenarios that could lead to some anxious moments on selection Sunday.