It's that time of year again - the football season is halfway over, Halloween is just around the corner and Bob Huggins is prepping the basketball team for a new season.
Harris was the leading scorer for WVU last season.
Two years ago, I nailed my preseason prediction all the way down to the overall record (19-12), conference record (9-9) and first round beatdown. That felt good.
Last year, I said WVU would win 20 games, make the NCAA Tournament and that Eron Harris would not even be in the rotation. So, there's that....
In an effort to get myself back on track, I'm here to break down the 2013-2014 season for the Mountaineers.
Without further ado....
The Old Guard:
Juwan Staten - Staten started 21 games last year, and played in all but one contest. As the season went along, however, his production fell off dramatically. Through his first thirteen games, he averaged 11 points and three assists per game. While his assists stayed steady, his points dropped down to 3.8 a game over the final ten contests. His minutes were eaten away at by the younger guards, but I expect his time to stay steady this fall due to there only being four guards on scholarship.
Gary Browne - Gary Browne played in all 32 games, but took a dramatic step back in virtually every statistical category from his freshman year. His production fell in points (6.5 to 5.6), rebounds (3.9 to 2.8), assists (3.0 to 1.5), field-goal percentage (43.4% to 32.5%), three-point percentage (24.4% to 20.4%) and minutes (25.6 to 19.8). Much like Staten, his role on the team diminished as the year went along, averaging only eight minutes a night over the last five games. And, again like Staten, I expect his role to remain about the same due to the fact there are only four guards on scholarship.
Eron Harris - Harris went from rarely playing at the start of the year (including a DNP-Coach's Decision versus Davidson) to the leading scorer on the team (9.8 points) and an All-Big12 Honorable Mention. He has a good stroke from deep (team-high 44 three-pointers last year) and is not afraid to attack the rim. He's reliable on the free throw line and a good passer, but really needs to improve on his decision making and defense.
Terry Henderson - Henderson is a tremendous shooter (40% from three last year) that saw his time increase as the season went along. I look for him to get a large portion of the minutes at shooting guard, but he needs to improve his defense if he wants to stay on Bob Huggins' good side.
Kevin Noreen - Noreen takes the brunt of many jokes and criticism because he's often seen flailing on the ground or losing a rebound to a smaller player. While he certainly is not a marquee big man, at times last season he was the only player capable of grabbing a rebound. Even as the only returning player down low, I expect his minutes to stay minimal - or at least decrease as the new guys become more accustomed to the college game.
The Fresh Faces
Nathan Adrian - Adrian is a three-time All-State selection that has a solid stroke from outside, but is not afraid to bang down low, having often guarded the other team's center in high school. The difference in competition is going to be dramatic (to say the least), but he has the skills where he could be an offensive boost off the bench, or a "big three" in a mismatched lineup.
Devin Williams - In contrast to Adrian, Williams played against the best players in the country everyday in practice and every week in games. He has a college-ready body, can hit the mid-range jumper and has the potential to be a double-digit rebounder as a true freshman. Developing a go-to post move will be top priority for him.
Brandon Watkins - Watkins is long, athletic and raw. His wingspan is tremendous and he alters (and blocks) plenty of shots on defense. He'll grab plenty of boards and is good for a couple putbacks per game, but his offensive game is troubling. I don't expect him to put up a lot of points, but he should provide a spark off the bench with his energy and athleticism.
Remi Dibo - He has the size of a four, but the mentality of a two-guard. He needs to be guarded the moment he steps into the gym and has the length to get his shot off over many defenders. He lacks the rebounding skills and defense that Bob Huggins desires but, if he improves that, he could be a valuable asset for the team this year.
Jonathan Holton - He is the key down low this year for the Mountaineers. He's already proven he can play in college. He has the size, the skills and the athleticism to score and play defense in the post. He'll need to stay out of foul trouble, though, if he wants to be WVU's marquee big man.
The Depth Chart
The Perimeter Players: Part of me wants to believe that Eron Harris and Terry Henderson will be the starters in the backcourt, but until one or both of them proves they can play defense, that's likely not going to happen. I expect Juwan Staten to start at point with Harris playing off him. Look for Henderson to get plenty of minutes, with Browne coming in as the second guard off the bench. If necessary, he'll play the "three" in a three-guard lineup that Huggs has used in recent years.
The Big Men: This one is a bit tougher because of all the newcomers, but based off what I've seen, my picks would be Remi Dibo at small forward, Jonathan Holton at power forward and Devin Williams at center. I'm sure to start the season Kevin Noreen will likely get the nod at one of those spots, but I expect that to change as the year goes on. Look for him and Watkins to backup the two big spots, with Adrian as the main backup at small forward.
How Will The Season Unfold?
*This is all under the assumption that Holton will be eligible this season. See my first post in the thread for an amended preview if he is out.
The game at Virginia Tech will have some emotions from the Hokies and is always a potential for an upset, but West Virginia should be heading down to Mexico with a 5-0 record. Old Dominion should not give them much of a fight in the opening round game, but Wisconsin (or St. Louis) will give the 'Eers some trouble in the second game. That would be my pick for the first loss of the season.
A welcome home cupcake game against Loyola Marymount should get them back on track, but only briefly. The Mountaineers will travel to Missouri and host Gonzaga the following week, both losses in my book. In fact, that is followed by the always-tough game in Charleston versus Marshall, and then Purdue comes to town. That could be a four game losing streak for the 'Eers, although I'm giving them 1-3 (beating The Herd).
A win over William & Mary shortly after Christmas will put West Virginia at 9-4 and heading into Big12 play with a little bit of confidence.
As everyone saw last season, once teams get into conference play, the picture gets a little muddled.
West Virginia should be able to handle Texas Tech and TCU, two teams I consider to be at the bottom of the conference. The next tier up is where I find the Mountaineers, along with Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma. I expect WVU to battle out a couple victories in that group, especially at home.
The top group of schools in the conference this year are undoubtedly Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State (in that order for me). I think WVU would be happy just to sneak two wins out of those eight games.
Final Prediction: 17-14 (8-10), NIT Tournament