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5 Questions with the Smoking Musket

Now that it's conference season, it's time to fire up the old question exchange with fellow Big East bloggers to get a sense of what they think their team's strengths and weaknesses are. First up for the West Virginia Mountaineers game is Charley West of The Smoking Musket site (thanks for the quick responses!).

5 questions - and some good answers - below>>

1. So, are the Mountaineers... good? They're experienced and look tough, but they lost to Miami and Minnesota. What went wrong in those losses?

It's hard for me to get much of a read on this team so far. We have some experience at the point guard and forward positions, and Bob Huggins coached teams are always going to be tough. But we don't have enough scorers and our young centers, Deniz Kilicli and Danny Jennings, still have a long way to go.

As for our two losses, we gakked away the Minnesota game with poor free throw shooting (which is going to happen occasionally with Huggins' teams) and blew a 13-point second half lead against Miami (which should rarely, if ever, happen with Huggins' teams).

1a. What do the Mountaineers look like when they're at their best?

Realistically, the scoring is going to have to come from Truck Bryant, Casey Mitchell, and Kevin Jones. Anything from Dalton Pepper, Joe Mazzulla, Kilicli or Jennings is just a bonus. But we're not built to win shootouts, so we will also need to play outstanding defense and rebound well, and avoid turning it over. A good win for WVU would be 70-60.

2. Back in 2008, St. John's - featuring 6 of the current roster of seniors - took the Mountaineers into overtime. It was cute, a game filled with hope. And since then, the Red Storm have lost by 23 (2009) and by 19, in a game where they led by 11 at the half. Why would this game be any different than the other blowouts?

In 2008, Huggins was still trying to put his mark on the program and teach players recruited by John Beilein to play Huggins' brand of basketball. And if I remember correctly, Joe Alexander had yet to really come unto his own when we played St. John's. Those 2009 and 2010 teams were more veteran and featured a really really good lineup that included Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler, who really complemented each other well. Those guys are gone this year, and with them a lot of the go-to scoring and leadership that they brought to the table. I suspect that this game will be much more competitive than the last two.

3. Where's that Noah Cottrill kid? And that Kevin Noreen fellow?

Before the season, Huggins suspended Noah Cottrill indefinitely for "conduct unbecoming a Mountaineer." Nobody has heard from him since, but he's still on the official roster, so it's hard to tell what is really going on. Kevin Noreen is averaging 3 points and 2 rebounds in 6.5 minutes of action so far, which is about what we would expect from him. The other two players from this year's recruiting class, Darrious Curry and David Nyarsuk, never made it to campus because they suffered from health issues and grade issues, respectively. Some recruiting class, huh?

4. Who's gotten better in the last year for the Mountaineers? Who's gotten worse?

Casey Mitchell has definitely improved. I'm not sure if it was a problem adjusting from JUCO play to Big East play, or simply a problem adjusting to Bob Huggins, but Mitchell has really stepped his game up, and WVU needs him to continue that improvement if we want to be competitive in Big East play.

On the other hand, Deniz Kilicli has sort of regressed, at least from where we thought he'd be. He showed flashes of brilliance in limited time last year, but seems to be struggling with the demands of increased playing time, including his defensive assignments. We need that to change if we want to be dynamic.

5. It seems that prognosticators aren't penning West Virginia in for a deep tournament run. Would would have to happen for the 'Eers to make noise in March?

I'd include myself among those prognosticators. At this point, I think a 20-10 regular season sounds about right, with a decent run in the Big East tournament and one win in the NCAAs. Of course, you never know what could happen, but for the outlook to improve significantly, Kilicli and Jennings are going to have to improve greatly and Mitchell is going to have to continue his torrid shooting. Never underestimate Huggins, but this appears to be a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers.