Youth Exposed

The West Virginia men's basketball team is in some trouble this season. Even with a veteran coach like Bob Huggins, there are issues like inexperience and lack of overall size that will make for an interesting season.

Interesting in a light way to put what it may turn out to be. Pretty would not be a word I'd describe it as following the Mountaineers' 77-74 loss to Northern Kentucky in an exhibition game Friday at the WVU Colisuem.

The players – specifically seniors Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones – described it pretty well.



Wake-up call.


"We were all on separate pages tonight," Jones said. "It's just disappointing. I'm not taking anything away from them, because they shot the hell out of the ball. They played harder than us, and they wanted it more."

Those were the terms used to describe the game in which the Mountaineers trailed by 13 at halftime and eventually lost by a buzzer-beater three from Northern Kentucky's Eshaunte Jones with 1.1 seconds to play.

What happened on Friday night is what I feared would take place. West Virginia looked as young as it is.

The numbers on the backs of WVU's jerseys tonight – minus Bryant and Jones, of course – were hard to figure out. At one point in the game, the numbers would've showed players like Da'Sean Butler and Darris Nichols on the court. Indeed they were not.

Instead, it was players like Jabari Hinds, Gary Browne, Keaton Miles and Pat Forsythe. Not really the household names of old.

Against Northern Kentucky, it looked as if the Mountaineers were down a man at many parts in the game. The Norse was hitting open shot after open shot like it was shoot-around.

It was the worst defense I had ever seen in the Huggins era – and that's not a lie. It's the type of defense that will have Huggins tossing and turning in his sleep, I'm sure. He may even get sick to his stomach when he watched the tape back of this game.

"I could sit here and make excuses and say we're too young and we're rebuilding and all that other kind of stuff," Huggins said. "Truth of the matter is, I've got to do a better job of coaching."

The offense wasn't that much better, though it was an improvement from the defense. Bryant, when set up and controlled, looked the part of a playmaker. Jones was solid as usual on the offensive side, particularly when he hit two straight threes in the middle of the second half.

But, just as the offense was getting set up, the defense would let WVU down in a big way. The crowd couldn't even get into it to the point that it made more noise for the halftime show.

There are reasons to be excited for this team, though. The Mountaineers have potential. Sure, they didn't show much of it on Friday against the Norse, but it's there I promise you.

The young point guards – Browne and Hinds – are talented and skilled. They can hit the jumper and be an athletic force. But they're young.

The same can be said for just about every freshman or newcomer on the roster this season. Potential is there to be a good basketball player down the road. But, it will take time.

On Friday, WVU didn't have projected starter at forward Deniz Kilicli due to a knee injury. That would've changed the game, I'm sure.

Huggins said that Kilicli would be good to go for next Friday's season opener and that he was withheld from the game as a precaution.

When Kilicli is back at full strength, there is no doubt that this team gets better. It gets an inside presence that it just doesn't have with redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen, who started in Kilicli's place against Northern Kentucky.

If WVU somehow finds a way to make a rapid improvement on defense, don't count this team out.

It was merely an exhibition game. Yet, it was ugly.


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