Column - A look at what WVU has done and needs to do by season’s end
Published: Monday, January 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 00:01
Tomorrow marks the beginning of February, or a stretch of time in the college basketball season that I liken to the last set of exams students have before finals.
With only one month until conference tournaments begin, it's essential West Virginia stays sharp in the closing month of the regular season.
Although deep into the heart of conference play, there's still plenty of time to improve – or weaken – the all-important resume before the big dance.
At any rate, now is a good time to take a look at what the men's squad has accomplished so far and what I think needs to happen to make sure things go well on Selection Sunday.
More Browne, repair Truck
In West Virginia's seven losses, freshman guard Gary Browne scored an average of 3.3 points per game. In the Mountaineers' 15 wins, Browne averaged 10.1 points per game. For the season, Browne shoots a respectable 44.5 percent from the field.
Browne's backcourt companion, senior guard Truck Bryant, is shooting 37.1 from the field – worst among the West Virginia regulars. In the previous four games prior to Pittsburgh, Bryant averaged 14 points per game but only made 28 percent of his shots from the field.
There's no denying the importance of Bryant on this team, but if he continues his inefficient shooting, it's going to further hinder a Mountaineer offense that already relies on senior forward Kevin Jones to score 20 points every night.
If Bryant spends more time focusing on shots that come to him through the natural flow of the offense instead of looking to create his own on every possession, you'll see more performances like Rutgers and Villanova instead of Cincinnati and Connecticut.
Browne would benefit by inheriting some of the shot attempts Bryant could pass on; West Virginia is 8-2 when Browne shoots at least six times.
Kilicli & Co. in the post
Although the "Istan-bull" is having his best season as a Mountaineer, junior forward Deniz Kilicli can't be on the floor for the entire game. Prior to this season, Kilicli had never played 30 minutes in a single game. This year, he has had five games with at least that amount.
While Kilicli has been solid this season, those accompanying him in the paint have been somewhat spotty. Redshirt freshman forward Kevin Noreen showed sparks of his capability in the victory over Marshall, and freshman forward Dominic Rutledge has played well in a handful of games; yet, the two are still fairly inconsistent.
The question isn't if Noreen and Rutledge will be a factor down the stretch, but rather, how big of a factor they will be.
Both have specific roles on this team and have been serviceable in them thus far, but if something happens to Kilicli (injury, foul trouble) the pair of youngsters will have to be prepared to adjust accordingly.
Seeding and the final stretch
After the home matchup with Pittsburgh, West Virginia's remaining schedule is split between four road games and four home games. Providence, DePaul and a sneaky USF team may not be easy victories, but I feel confident penciling the Mountaineers in for three wins there.
Also remaining is a home-and-home series with Notre Dame, home games with Marquette and Louisville and a road trip to Pittsburgh. Grinding out two or three wins from those games seems to be a safe estimation and should put West Virginia in solid positioning heading into the Big East conference tournament.
ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi had West Virginia as high as a No. 3-seed last week but has now moved them down to a No. 5-seed. Other analysts have put the Mountaineers anywhere between a No. 4-seed and a No. 7-seed.
I think a realistic expectation would be around a No. 6-seed. If the Mountaineers drop a couple of unexpected games down the stretch or make an early exit from the Big East conference tournament, things could change, but the quality of West Virginia's season thus far has been impressive, and a strong finish down the stretch warrants a solid first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
And to think, at the beginning of this year, most had expected this team to be bound for the NIT.
Of course, many weren't picking Kevin Jones as Big East Player of the Year, either.