Before I began writing the WVU vs Duquesne preview, I promised myself three things. First, I wanted it to be informative not just 1000-1500 words of Bob Huggins is a fat slob jokes. Second, I won’t pick on Ron Everhart. Third, I don’t want to write anything that ends up worded strongly enough to end up on a bulletin board.
This time four years ago, both programs started campaigns from a position of strength. West Virginia had a strong squad that ultimately reached the the Final Four setting a school record of 31 wins. Meanwhile, Duquesne had qualified for its first post season tournament in fifteen seasons with a trip to the NIT the year before.
In November of 2009, both schools appeared to have programs on the rise. Since then, neither university built on their momentum having in fact regressed. We know Duquesne’s story which includes high profile transfers, an end of season collapse and a coaching change. WVU won their first round NCAA tournament game by defeating Clemson in 2011 before getting knocked out by Gonzaga in first round the next year. In a football-centric move, the Mountaineers left the basketball happy but doomed Big East for the Big 12. Like Duquesne, Huggins team sank like a stone last season finishing with only 13 wins and an RPI in the 140’s.
The turbulence continued into the off season for both clubs. WVU and Duquesne return a combined eight scholarship players after only graduating two seniors each the year before. While I don’t know the exact reasons for the turnover, its safe to assume that some of the it occurred because the coaching staffs felt they could improve the team externally. Ironically, three of the departed Mountaineers ended up at schools that finished with an RPI than West Virginia last year. Jabarie Hinds, Keaton Miles and Aaron Brown moved on to UMass, Arkansas, and St Joe’s respectively. In July, CBS reported that Huggins dismissed former LaSalle star Aaric Murray, but Higgins had a softer story stating “At the end of the day, we came to a mutual agreement that it was best for him to continue his career elsewhere.” However you want to spin it, West Virginia lost their arguably most talented player late in the process.
To make matters worse, the NCAA hasn’t cleared a pair of players expected to replace him. Top recruit Elijiah Macon has been ruled ineligible to compete this year and will redshirt as a partial qualifier. Meanwhile, former Rhode Island Ram, Jonathan Holton remains in clearinghouse limbo. Late commit Daxter Miles never enrolled and will prep at Notre Dame.
While that last paragraph seems grim, West Virginia have assembled a men’s basketball team this year. Like Duquesne, the Mountaineers will field an inexperienced group and the 2013-14 season could become a side note in the bigger picture. “We don’t have any seniors,” Huggins told Seth Davis during an interview for CampusInsiders.com “I think we (will) have a good year this year and have everybody back for the following year. I think we can make a run.” They expect to play a faster pace than one might normally expect from a Bob Huggins team with an emphasis on perimeter shooting and transition.
The straw that stirs the drink for WVU this year will be PG and Dayton transfer Juwan Staten. Staten has adapted his game to play more the role of distributor only averaging only 7.6 PPG as a sophomore and he has struggled from both the three point and free throw line. Still, Staten gets to the hoop quickly and plays solid defense. His back court partner Eron Harris led the team in scoring last year, but failed to break double figures. The Mountainers start two freshman in the post with Morgantown product Nathan Adrian playing as an inside – outside three and the highly skilled Devin Williams playing power forward. Former Duquesne target Kevin Noreen should see a bigger role at center for West Virginia as a redshirt junior.
Off the bench, WVU has decent balance and a few dangerous players. Sophomore Terry Henderson plays the wing and provides West Virginia with their most dangerous outside threat. Henderson missed the first game with shin inflammation. Big man Brandon Watkins can play either the four or the five. 6’8” JUCO transfer Remi Dibo provides additional depth at either forward and is a surprising three point threat. Depth at guard gets better with the return of Henderson. Before that, Gary Browne provided Huggins only scholarship option coming off the bench to play one or two. They have used walk – on Chase Connor but I wouldn’t expect to see him Sunday.
The shorthanded Mountaineers of West Virginia managed to defeat the Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary’s by a final score of 77-62 in their season opener. The team picked to finish middle of the road in the NEC managed to out rebound WVU 33-29 while shooting a respectable 40% from the floor. West Virginia shot 56% for the game buoyed by a hot first half. Staten, who played the entire game had 22 points and 6 assists.
In their second game, West Virginia blew a huge first half lead to Virginia Tech on the road. We saw Dibo emerge on the perimeter, but poor play by Noreen put him in the doghouse. The starting WVU guards struggled to finish going a combined 7-29 from the floor.
Like Duquesne, it’s difficult to get a read on what West Virginia is and what they can become. Even Bob Huggins concedes in a Big 12 network interview that “we’re just trying to figure it out.” The Dukes will hope they wait at least another few days before they do. Four years ago, many would have expected this year’s meeting between the Dukes and the Mountaineers to exist on a different plain than it will especially as it’s the closest thing we have to a back yard brawl. Unfortunately, it will fall well short of the projected hype given the regression of both teams. Hopefully, this year marks a low point and in another four years, both programs will pretend this blip of rebuilding didn’t even exist.