West Virginia Basketball: What's the Problem with the Mountaineers?
On Wednesday night, West Virginia lost 81-71 to St. John’s.
It was the first time they lost to the Red Storm since all the way back in 2002, Gale Catlett’s last season in Morgantown. All game long, the Mountaineers were flat out beat by a St. John’s team who, despite being much improved from last season, shouldn’t have beaten West Virginia at the Coliseum.
But this isn’t your normal West Virginia basketball team. This group just doesn’t have it like it did last season.
The first thing that the Mountaineers are missing, and it was very evident on Wednesday, is a legitimate go-to scorer that the team can look to to make a big shot with the game on the line. Of course last year, Da’Sean Butler filled this role, making game-winner after game-winner to lead WVU to a Big East Tournament Championship and its first Final Four appearance since the Jerry West era.
And when Butler graduated, that role was left empty and nobody has yet to step in to fill it for this team.
Against the Red Storm, when the Mountaineers cut the lead to three points, who took the shot to try to tie the game up?
Where will West Virginia finish in the Big East this season?
Not who you want taking a big shot.
Through the first few games of the season, it looked like Casey Mitchell was going to be the guy to step into the role that Butler filled last season after his performance in the first seven games of the year. Mitchell was averaging 21.7 points per game, including a four-game stretch where he scored at least 25 points.
But since then, the senior has cooled off remarkably and, quite frankly, is just too streaky to be considered as a go-to guy on any team in the Big East.
Another guy that a lot of people have thought of as a possibility to be the main guy with the game on the line is junior point guard Truck Bryant. Armed with a similar playing style as Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker, unfortunately Truck can be thrown in the same boat as Mitchell as somebody who just hasn’t been consistent enough to be considered a top-level scorer like Walker has emerged as in the early part of the season for the Huskies.
And then there’s Kevin Jones. At the beginning of the season, he was the obvious pick to be the main scorer and, by far, one of the top players in the Big East. In fact, he was even picked as the Big East Player of the Year by a few college basketball writers — including this one.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, Jones just hasn’t adapted to the role of being the team’s main attraction as well as some had hoped. In fact, it looks like he’s much more comfortable as a secondary player, much like he was when Butler and Devin Ebanks were at WVU a year ago.
The second major problem that this West Virginia team is going to have as they get into Big East play is the lack of a post presence that it has.
In the Big East, you need to have a big, physical team in order to have success. This WVU team just doesn’t have it.
When you look at Deniz Kilicli and Danny Jennings, you see two big bodies you have the ability to be something special. They both have had little bursts early in the season that could make you believe that, given time, they could be very productive players in Bob Huggins’ system and the Big East. But they just don’t look like they’re getting it at this point in the season and that’s going to be very detrimental in the amount of success that this team is going to be able to have against some of the top teams in the conference.
Kilicli is a very gifted player on the offensive end of the floor, but still hasn’t improved as much on the defensive end and rebounding as much as he was expected to over the offseason. And Jennings is about the polar opposite of Kilicli. A much better defensive player, Jennings provides West Virginia with a reliable rebounder and a major threat to block shots. But if you want to see the true definition of being lost on the offensive end, look no further than the 6-foot-8 sophomore.
The two guys who are supposed to be major threats in the low post, just aren’t quite good enough just yet, to help the Mountaineers make a run in the Big East this season. And it’s not that they don’t have the talent to do it, it just doesn’t look like they have improved enough from where they were last season to make a large impact.
Look at all the Big East champions from the past five years, every one of them have had both a big-time, impact scorer and a reliable post presence down low.
West Virginia doesn’t have either right now and until that changes, expect a lot of troubles for the Mountaineers in Big East play.
Michael Carvelli covers West Virginia University men's and women's basketball for The Daily Athenaeum and you can follow him on Twitter, www.twitter.com/Carvelli3.
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