MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The NCAA tournament begins in earnest today, and it does so without West Virginia in the bracket for the first time since 2007.
After a dismal 13-19 campaign that marked the low point in Bob Huggins’ esteemed coaching career, here are a few reflections on what went wrong and what can be done to make sure next season doesn’t repeat. Each player was assigned a season-long grade based upon his projected impact:
LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray was projected to be a 6-foot-10 inside-outside force who could defend the rim with his length. Instead, he started only 11 games, fouled out of four and was suspended for the Michigan game.
Though he provided flashes of his all-around potential late in the season, those moments came sporadically and too often he was chided for unsustained effort. Take the final seconds of WVU’s season for example: Murray swatted away a Texas Tech shot in the closing seconds only to be one of three Mountaineers who never made a move to box out as Tech’s Dejan Kravic stepped in for the uncontested putback.
After the season-ending loss, the junior said he wanted to return to WVU for his senior year if Huggins would allow it. Murray stated a similar desire after the Jan. 28 loss to Kansas, and Huggins public response at that point was, at best, noncommittal. Given the up-and-down efforts Murray exhibited, it’s unlikely Huggins will sign up for another year of trying to coax effort from the transfer.
Murray’s grade: D
Point guard Juwan Staten, the sophomore who previously played at Dayton, was billed all preseason as a reliable floor leader. But that distinction was shattered during the Jan. 9 game at Texas, when an incident involving him and Huggins led to Staten’s benching in the second half. WVU rallied from 13 down to win that game 57-53 in overtime. Staten remained on the bench the next game, WVU’s 65-64 home loss to Kansas State. He started only seven of the Mountaineers’ final 16 games.
Staten’s grade: C
Matt Humphrey experience a setback before the season started, suffering a shoulder injury during summer game. It required surgery and intermittently bothered him throughout the season. A one-year senior transfer Huggins brought in to help with perimeter shooting, Humphrey averaged 4.5 points but appeared in only 19 games.
Humphrey’s grade: D-
The assumption that guards Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne and Aaron Browne, and forwards Keaton Miles and Kevin Noreen would make noticeable improvements as sophomores proved erroneous.
Hinds started 26 games, second-most on the team, and led the squad in shot attempts despite making only 35 percent. He struggled from 3-point range, making only 27 percent, and made tough drives into the lane when WVU’s halfcourt offense broke down. He averaged 7.4 points per game, and there is some sentiment he might make a better point guard. But then again, his 55 turnovers to 52 assists don’t necessarily support that.
Hinds’ grade: C-
Gray Browne played in 32 games and started 12, not atypical as Huggins juggled his playing rotation all season in search of the right combination. Browne shot 20 percent on 3s, and though his 48-to-42 assist-to-turnover ratio is nothing to brag about, he was one of only four Mountaineers with a positive figure in that category.
Browne’s grade: D
The 6-foot-10 Noreen, who can be a functional big man in limited minutes, earned 18 starts because of his grit and willingness to set screens, fight for rebounds and scrap for loose balls. He showed development as a passer and, despite limited athleticism, he figures to be a hardnosed component of WVU’s lineup the next two seasons.
Noreen’s grade: B-
The 6-foot-7 Miles regressed from 32 starts as a freshman to just two as a sophomore, averaging only 11.5 minutes. His length and athleticism give him value on the defensive end, but he remains a nonfactor offensively. With WVU already one scholarship over next year’s limit and Huggins seeking to sign another player or two this spring, Miles’ return is in question.
Miles’ grade: D
Aaron Brown scored 4.2 points in 32 games as a freshman, but became an afterthought this season, appearing in only 17 games and scoring 1.6 per contest. He’s another strong candidate for roster attrition.
Brown’s grade: D
The team’s leading scorer, Eron Harris, wasn’t particularly heralded in the preseason. But the guard helped shoot WVU out of a 17-point hole at Iowa State and wound up starting the final 17 games. He put up other big-time performances — 25 points in a 65-62 home loss to Baylor and 23 to help WVU stay competitive in an 83-70 loss at Oklahoma, but Harris admitted to being frustrated upon failing to counter the defense thrown at him by Kansas, K-State and Oklahoma State late in the season.
Harris’ grade: B+
Terry Henderson looked like the breakout freshman after scoring 23 points against Michigan in December, and he followed that with a 20-point outburst in the Big 12 opener against OU. A back injury, however, interrupted that momentum as well as defensive lapses. Looking ahead to next season, WVU would benefit from pairing Henderson and Harris on the floor — provided they can guard adequately and feed the post when opportunities arise.
Henderson’s grade: B-
The 6-10 Volodymyr Gerun wasn’t technically a freshman, thanks to a year spent at a Ukrainian university, but he signed in August amid speculation from the coaches he could help WVU as a pick-and-pop big man this season. That estimation was overblown as Gerun played a total of 33 minutes during seven games. His offensive skills translate to Division I but it remains to be seen whether he can defend well enough to earn minutes in the Big 12.
Gerun’s grade: D-
As a go-to guy, Deniz Kilicli turned out to be a pretty good role player. He averaged 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds and shot only 47 percent from the floor — a critically low figure considering the bulk of his attempts came at close-range. To be fair, he endured a season’s worth of hacking in the low post, rarely getting the benefit of foul calls from officials.
Kilicli’s grade: C+
Though Dominique Rutledge was never much of an offensive threat during his two seasons at WVU, he’ll always have the memories of his lone double-digit game, a 17-point outburst at historic Allen Fieldhouse. Granted, Kansas took West Virginia to the woodshed 91-65, but at least Rutledge’s afternoon provided an anomaly to remember.
Rutledge’s grade: C-
Huggins admitted that opening the season at Gonzaga turned out to be a mistake, and that 34-point loss was awfully convincing, but let’s not fault a coach for building a challenging nonconference schedule when the NCAA selection committee openly rewards such. Next season’s nonleague slate doesn’t project to be as daunting, though Gonzaga and Purdue visit the Coliseum and WVU travels to the Cancun Challenge for potential games against Wisconsin and Saint Louis. There’s also a road game at Virginia Tech, where the country’s top scorer, Erick Green, will have graduated.
Huggins took a chance on transfers with less-than-stellar backgrounds and the team chemistry suffered for it. Now it’s up to him and the staff to meld the leftover components into a more cohesive unit next season. With four high school forwards signed, WVU is reportedly seeking at least one guard prospect.
It’s not often that one of Division I’s winningest coaches suffers through such a foul season, but this most recent one revealed rather brutally that the program and its iconic frontman aren’t infallible.
Huggins’ grade: D