Even WVU head coach Bob Huggins doesn't have the best of handles on what the 2010-11 edition of his team will look like, but there were still some interesting observations to be made around WVU's brief appearance at its Mountaineer Madness event.
Admittedly, there aren't a lot of judgments that can be made about the team as a whole, what the offense and defense will look like or how the men's and women's teams will ultimately fare this year, but there are still some things that could be gleaned from the first interviews and initial public appearance of both squads. First, to the men's side.
There's a difference about Joe Mazzulla. The senior leader has always been a strong, confident competitor, but the way in which he spoke with the media on Thursday, coupled with his play in a helter-skelter 14 minute scrimmage on Friday, seems to bode well for the coming season. Mazzulla, ten pounds lighter than a year ago, thinks he is in his best condition ever. With WVU looking to push the ball in transition more this season, Mazzulla will be a key factor in helping the Mountaineers get some easy baskets.
Size gains are noticeable. Kevin Jones, Dalton Pepper and Dan Jennings have all gained appreciable definition and size. Jennings is a first team member of the All-Airport squad (guys that look great when you see them walking through the airport), and both Jones and Pepper have clearly been putting in time in the weight room as well. Going on a few brief possessions, Jennings has also improved his play around the rim, and although he's not a consistent scoring threat yet, he showed more awareness on the offensive end, grabbing a couple of rebounds and taking the ball up strongly.
Although he's just been in town for just a few months, Kevin Noreen has also made some size gains. He's nowhere near Jones or Jennings, obviously, but he looks much bigger than photos of him during his senior year of high school indicate. Noreen also showed a nice shooting touch during warmups and in the game, as he canned a mid-range jumper.
Kevin Jones isn't on the Wooden Award preseason watch list, and that's a major mistake. The smooth junior just does everything well. Even in the disjointed action of the open scrimmage, Jones played his game. He rebounded, defended, hit a pair of three-pointers, ran down a loose ball to convert a stickback, and generally showed all the attributes of an all-Big East player. As head coach Bob Huggins noted, "I can't imagine that he's not one of the top 50 players in the country."
Big man Deniz Kilicli has been spending lots of time running the stairs and trying to catch up on all the conditioning work he missed while he was away over the summer. His progress in that remains to be seen, as there wasn't enough intensity in the scrimmage session to see what his endurance looks like, but the quick offensive moves remain. Kilicli unleashed a pair of his drop step and spin moves to get clean looks at the basket, and he looked much more comfortable in the post in the few possessions where a play was run. A highlight was watching Kilicli and Jennings square off in the past. While the encounters weren't as tough as later ones in the Big East conference will be, it was fun to see the two big bodies jostling for position.
It might be time to junk the dunk contest that is held at these events in favor of a little more scrimmage time. The dunk tires were almost farcical, and each of the competitors (Pepper, Jennings and John Flowers) clearly didn't put in much time beforehand as to what they might attempt. Judges Cassie Warner, Jamie Smalligan, Lonnie Galloway, David Lockwood and WVU president James Clements) didn't have many successful jams to pronounce judgment on. In fact, there were several better dunks executed during the scrimmage, with a pair of tomahawks from Mazzulla and some power jams from Flowers highlighting the action.
A disappointment is not being able to see how (if) West Virginia has developed a three-point shooting threat to compensate for the loss of Da'Sean Butler. Casey Mitchell was absent due to his suspension for violation of team rules, and Pepper didn't get the chance to show much in the scrimmage. Along with that pair, Truck Bryant and Mazzulla have reportedly become more consistent in that area, but it probably won't be until next month before the chance for first hand evidence is available.
The women's squad didn't scrimmage or participate in an advertised three-point shooting contest, so there wasn't anything to judge in terms of on the court action. What is apparent is that this tam probably has more height and depth than any squad in the Mike Carey era. Will that be enough to topple UConn from its accustomed spot atop the Big East standings? That's a huge order, but this team might have the talent to make a run at it.