With the announced return of Kevin Jones and the transfer of Aaric Murray, WVU has all 13 scholarship spots filled on its roster for the fall. West Virginia could add more walk-ons to its roster, or bring back some or all of the trio that held down those spots last year, but that's a decision that likely won't be made until the season is nearer.
So, for the purposes of our rundown, we'll use the scholarship players, plus walk-on Paul Herbert Williamson, who has already been announced as a member of next year's team. We'll start off this series with the centers/post players, and look at forwards and guards in upcoming installments.
Trying to separate centers from the forwards is something of an arbitrary task. West Virginia's official roster lists players as either guards or forwards, and in many of Bob Huggins' offensive sets, the positions truly are interchangeable. The same is true on defense, where Huggins would prefer to be able to switch against screens and picks and have defenders capable of playing all over the floor. For the purposes of our evaluation, however, we're going to tab Deniz Kilicli, Pat Forsythe and Murray as post players, with the understanding that they're not limited to just standing on the blocks or in the paint. We also could have added Kevin Noreen to this list, but chose instead to slot him with the forwards.
Whether we're talking guards, forwards, or centers, the preview is much the same in regard to returning experience for WVU. There's a player at each spot with starting experience or appreciable minutes on his resume, but behind that the savvy meter is pretty much on empty. At center, Kilicli is suddenly the greybeard of the group, but a critical look at his minutes and play last season shows that he holds that title by default only.
In looking at Kilicli's game, and his prospects for the season, it's important to separate his status as a fan favorite from his performance on the court. Such issues can cloud objective judgment. We love the sweeping hooks, the emphatic roars and his personality, but we also have to look at all aspects of his game.
Kilicli has the athletic ability to outmaneuver opposing bigs, and he did that at times during his sophomore season. He didn't do it consistently, however, and when coupled with his inability use his size and strength in the post, the result was a string of up and down offensive performances. Following a 19-point showing against Pitt and a 12-pointer against DePaul, he averaged just three points per game over a stretch of seven Big East contests. He lost the touch on his hook shot and struggled defensively, especially against the high ball screen and on switches. All of that added up to a respectable second season in the Gold and Blue, but he averaged fewer than 17 minutes per game – a number that has to go up, along with his rebounding totals, this year. He has to avoid silly fouls that limited his minutes during key stretches, and become more fluid and unforced with the ball and when making moves to the basket. There's no doubt that he has the ability to do so, but as any sports fan should understand, that doesn't always mean that it is going to happen on the floor. If WVU is going to get points in the paint from its post players, they are likely going to come from the Big Turk.
Pat Forsythe's video shows some very nice post moves. He has the ability to score when he gets the ball on the block, but a host of questions will hover over him upon his arrival. Forsythe broke his right ankle in early March, and that injury ended a season in which he was averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game. How well will he bounce back from that injury? With his still developing frame, will he be able to stand up to the physical nature of Big East play?
One positive note from Forsythe's senior season is the fact that he played against some solid competition, He wasn't just grabbing the ball over 6-3 opposing centers and playing volleyball off the backboards. However, it's a stretch to think he can come in and do the same immediately against the front lines of Syracuse, UConn or Kansas State. The best projection would be that he could help early, as Kevin Noreen did a year ago (while hopefully avoiding injury) and give a few minutes of backup help per contest. As with Kilicli, the potential appears to be there, but there's a lot of work to be done before that is realized.
Murray is obviously something of a wild card, as he is ineligible to play this year while sitting out after transferring from LaSalle. He's strongly built, and thrived in the lane during his two seasons with the Explorers, so the hope is that he can hit the court running for live game action in the 2012-13 season. That doesn't mean, though, that he can't help this year. If he takes practice to heart, and competes as hard as he can, he can help Kilicli and Forsythe develop.
It's easy to say that, but it's also a difficult benefit to quantify. Everyone has to buy in to the process. Kilicli and Forsythe have to work to learn how to defeat the size and strength of a legitimately-sized Big East post player. Murray has to play hard, treat practices as games, and give the duo his best shot every time out. He can't coast or view this season as a time to kick back, otherwise his teammates won't get the work they need.
How much can Kilicli and Forsythe benefit from having such opposition? Consider that a year ago, WVU was using walk-ons as opposing practice centers. While they gave their best efforts, they simply couldn't bring the physical tools to seriously hamper Kilicli or the bigger forwards in practice. While it might be a stretch to call Murray a key to the upcoming season, there's no doubt that he could play a big role in improving West Virginia's presence inside.
You're likely to see evaluations that predict immediate and marked improvement for West Virginia's inside play this year. Such predictions automatically assume that returning players are going to perform better, but while that's often true, it's not a given. There are many factors that combine to determine how players grow and better their games, and at this point there are so many unknowns surrounding WVU's post play that it's difficult to predict a breakout year.
That said, we do expect West Virginia's offensive productivity inside to improve. Kilicli, as noted above, can score in a variety of ways, and if he can be more aggressive and take the ball to the hoop more strongly, additional points should come. Forsythe isn't going to be a scoring machine right off the bat, but he has good post moves to build upon. Add in forward Kevin Noreen (who we'll discuss in our next edition and WVU shouldn't be quite as undermanned inside as it was a year ago.