When West Virginia’s mens basketball team began the 2011-2012 campaign with nine new faces on the squad there was plenty of enthusiasm for the team’s potential. There was just as much caution of having realistic expectations for the team. A fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth would be a successful season for this team.
Then a funny thing happened. An early home loss to Kent State signaled that, perhaps, this would definitely be a rebuilding season for WVU. From that point where the Mountaineers were 1-1, they won 14 of their next 18 and were 15-5 and 5-2 in the Big East. During that stretch WVU was victimized in two games with a couple of official’s calls that influenced the out come. All of a sudden many of the skeptics bought into what Coach Bob Huggins and his young team had accomplished.
Like so many bad investments, it was not a good time to buy into the Mountaineers as they stumbled through the final part of the season winning just four of 13 games. Still, their body of work was sufficient enough for the NCAA selection committee to seed the Mountaineers 10th in the East Regional against seventh seeded Gonzaga. If you missed the result of that first round game, consider yourself fortunate. The rest of us endured what may have been the Mountaineers’ worst effort of the season in the 77-54 loss.
So, what to make of the second half slide?
There are a lot of theories out there, but it is hard to view the last six weeks as a positive development. The progress of freshman guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne seemed to be on a fast track in the early part of the season. A case could be made that the pair regressed down the stretch.
Freshman swing players Keaton Miles and Aaron Brown never found any level of consistency. Brown showed some promise offensively at times, but that faded down the stretch. Miles’ minutes were earned for his defensive effort, but he never really showed the offensive skills that had him a highly rated recruit coming out of high school in Texas. Tommie McCune, another freshman forward, left the team before the Big East Tournament.
Freshman centers Kevin Noreen and Pat Forsythe were casualties to season ending injuries. Forsythe went out in December and may be able to receive a medical redshirt. Noreen received a medical redshirt last year and was producing in many ways not noticeable on the stat sheet when he suffered a leg fracture in late January. These two injuries quite possibly had the most detrimental effect on the season for the Mountaineers.
On the plus side, the freshmen that could play, whether you think they improved or not, did get plenty of game experience. That experience has to be a positive, even if their progress did not rise to the level hoped for. One first year player that did make strides late in the season was junior college transfer Dominique Rutledge. Rutledge may not have had the opportunity to get many minutes if not for the injuries to Noreen and Forsythe, but the more athletic Rutledge made nice strides, even pulling down double digit rebounds on a couple occasions.
Of course replacing Kevin Jones’ 20 points and 11 rebounds per game next year will be very challenging, to say the least. Two transfers that sat out this season will be counted on heavily to take the team to a higher level next season. Center Arick Murray, said to be a possible NBA lottery pick, and point guard Juwan Staten figure to give the Mountaineers a chance to get into a higher gear next season.