West Virginia opened the season on Sunday with a sluggish first half that turned into a 23-point victory.
Tied 31-31 at the half, the Mountaineers, fueled by Da'Sean Butler's 26 points, stormed back to do what a top 10 team does to Loyola (MD)—blow them out.
The biggest story of the game wasn't Butler's points. That was expected.
It wasn't Casey Mitchell making his Mountaineer debut and struggling. That is also to be expected.
It wasn't about man-to-man defense either, because if Bob Huggins is on the sideline, that is to be expected.
The biggest story of the day was Kevin Jones starting for Devin Ebanks, who wasn't even in the building.
The official reason for his absence? Personal reasons. That's fine. Enough said. It really is no one's business. If he wanted it to be public, it would be, so idle speculation is a waste of time.
The reality came as Mountaineer fans across the country began to think what a season without Ebanks would actually hold.
Ebanks is WVU's up-and-coming superstar. He was projected as a potential NBA lottery pick last season after breakout performances in the Big East tournament. He was projected to be a big part of this season's team.
Chances are this was an anomaly. Ebanks will most likely be suited up when WVU takes on the Citadel in Charleston next Tuesday.
For a moment, let's take a minute and think what the season would be like if Ebanks didn't return. Yesterday's game was eye-opening as we consider this.
Jones started in Ebanks' place. Jones is a player with a big upside and a solid mid-range game. From Jones, we've seen flashes of greatness in the past.
Yesterday against Loyola, as a starter, Jones put up 14 points and grabbed seven boards along with two steals and a block and tallied 33 minutes of playing time, one less than Butler's team-leading 34 minutes.
Jones is bigger this season, and his basketball IQ is good. He played well and really filled in the gap in the starting lineup. He was the sixth man on a good team last year, averaging six points and almost five rebounds per contest.
The biggest bright spot in the frontcourt in Ebanks' absence may have been the play of freshman forward Danny Jennings. Jennings, a 6'8", 260-lb. forward from Staten Island, played 16 electrifying minutes, which were capped off by a two-handed dunk off a rebound that resulted in the opportunity for a three-point play.
Jennings served as the spark in the second half, playing above the rim and making the most of his time, grabbing 12 rebounds, scoring nine points, and blocking three shots.
Against Louisville in February, the Mountaineer frontcourt will add even more depth when Turkish big man Deniz Kilicli becomes eligible and finishes his suspension leveled by the NCAA.
While all signs indicate the return of Devin Ebanks, Jones and Jennings both showed that the frontcourt has the depth needed to make a run at the Big East title and the coveted Final Four. Add in Kilicli and the Mountaineers are not only capable of showing great depth under the basket this season, but for several seasons to come.