1. I know that West Virginia had some concerns with ballhandling and the health of the point guards on the roster. But the Mountaineers are doing fine... how did the issues resolve themselves?
2. The 'Eers are doing very well - my Mountaineer friends are extremely excited (and as a St. John's fan, I'm jealous). Tell us about the job Bob Huggins has done. What do you like and dislike about the team? What's the team's potential this year?
Well, I wouldn't say that the issues have resolved themselves just yet. Darryl "Truck" Bryant is starting in the PG spot after being replaced mid-year in Bob Huggins' all-forward lineup due to wildly inconsistent play. He's been much better in the last month or so as a pure PG. He's always been a very solid outside shooter, but his ventures into the paint are usually illustrated by his quixotic attempts to jump directly into the tallest person he can find in an effort to draw a foul. (Absolutely drives me crazy.)
But he's been doing much better with turnovers and defense, and has seemingly worked his way out of Huggs' doghouse.
Joe Mazzulla is the other PG on the WVU roster, and he's been plagued by a debilitating shoulder injury that he suffered last year (causing him to redshirt and sit out the season) that doesn't seem to be getting any better. He's a ferocious perimeter defender and very good at handling the ball- he just can't shoot. At all. For most of the year he's been taking free throws with his off-hand, and only recently is his shoulder well enough to try them with his strong hand.
But he's been getting more minutes recently, as he's able to control the offense, play solid defense, rebound, and provide a steady hand on the tiller. He just can't shoot. At all.
Bob Huggins wasn't exactly inheriting a bare cupboard after the John Beilein era in Morgantown that saw the Mountaineers coming off of seasons in which they went to the Elite 8, Sweet 16, and won the NIT with a totally new set of players.
But all of the weaknesses of the Beilein era (lack of rebounding, lack of toughness, reliance on turnover margin for victory) are Huggins' strengths. The Mountaineers were routinely finishing outside the top 100 teams in the nation in rebounding under Beilein; now they're in the top 10. Players that were skin and bones under Beilein are now built like Dejuan Blair. (Google some pictures of Wellington Smith if you're interested.)
Whereas the Beilein Mountaineers could beat anyone on any given night (see the 2005 second round victory over 2-seed Wake Forest), they could also lose to anyone if the 3's weren't falling (see consecutive losses to Marshall). This WVU team is much more consistent. The old adage is true- defense and rebounding never take a night off.
As for likes and dislikes- I like that the Mountaineers are athletic and pound the boards, I like the defensive effort they give night in and night out, I like the senior leadership in place with Da'Sean Butler. I dislike the fact that the offense can go stone cold at times, settling for too many 3's, and I dislike that the only true PG on the roster can't raise his shooting arm above shoulder level.
As for potential, this could be a Final 4 team, but only if matched up against teams in the Tournament without dominant inside scorers. Those typically give the Mountaineers problems.
3. Roster questions: If you can, give me a rundown on the roster - guards, wings, bigs. Who are the best players? Who are the ones that shouldn't be getting time? Is Deniz Kilicli going to be awesome, and how will he change the team?
Best players are forwards Da'Sean Butler and Kevin Jones now, with Devin Ebanks possibly turning the corner sometime soon. Ebanks was supposedly an NBA lottery pick if he'd left school last year, but hasn't looked like it at all for most games this season. He broke out towards the end of the year last season, so it could happen again.
Wellington Smith is a shot-blocking forward who usually draws the center assignment and has become an outstanding outside shooter for WVU, connecting on 44% of his 3-point attempts this season. He has defensive lapses at times, so his is prone to finding his way onto the bench in fits of Huggins' rage.
I've already talked about the two primary guards, but Dalton Pepper is a sharpshooting freshman that comes off the bench to contribute an outside threat at times. Similarly, John Flowers is a 6'9'' forward that enters the game whenever some physicality and shot-blocking is needed.
Casey Mitchell was the JuCo player of the year last year and was supposed to slide right into the starting lineup, but he's been nothing short of a Section 8 this year- wildly inconsistent and looks completely lost at times. He hasn't been playing much lately, thankfully.
As for Deniz Kilicli, before last night's game (win over Pitt at home), I would've said that he would provide a solid contribution to the physicality of the Mountaineers inside, possibly providing an inside-scoring threat they seem to be missing.
Then he went 4-4 with 9 points and two beautiful left-handed baby hook shots in the paint, and I fell head-over-heels in love. (I got a text from another WVU fan that compared Kilicli to a woman made out of chicken wings and beer.)
Now, who knows what kind of impact he can have on the Mountaineers? He looked a little lost on defense, but he's a straight Turkish Beast, and what was already an intimidating, physical lineup, just got that much thicker.
4. What is with all the damned yellow suits on Huggins?
This is a misconception, just like the notion that WVU fans burn couches after every game. (We burn couches after major upsets, typically rivalry games. To my knowledge, there hasn't been a rash of couch-burnings in almost 4 years.)
Huggs only busted out the mustard suit one time, and it caused such a sensation among Mountaineer fans that he hasn't worn it since. (WVU lost that game, to boot.) For whatever reason, this season he's worn the same black pullover jacket every single game. In the past, he's worn the same outfit during winning streaks, but he's found something he loves with this pullover.
We know he's got no love for ties, but shake it up a bit, Huggs.