However, in the past few weeks, attrition in two different forms struck, leaving the frontcourt a bit unsettled. First, Elijah Macon, who was being counted on as a physical force inside, failed to meet NCAA qualifying standards and announce he would be attending Brewster Academy this fall. Then, just last week, Pat Forsythe let it be known that he was transferring to Akron.
For Mountaineer fans, it's another case of "here we go again". Attrition strikes, and not only does it cut down on depth, it does so with two hits at the same positions on the floor. How will this affect Huggins and his team this year?
At first blush, some might say, "not much". Forsythe played in just seven games a year ago, scoring only 15 points in the process. Macon hadn't even stepped foot on a collegiate court yet, and while he might have competed for minutes, it figured that most of his contributions would come in roles on defense and on the boards. Surely, with four players (Deniz Kilicli, Kevin Noreen, Dominique Rutledge and Aaric Murray) still to turn to, those losses couldn't hurt too badly, right?
Well, maybe, or maybe not. While Forsythe was still developing his offensive game, the fundamentals were certainly there. He also grabbed 24 rebounds in those seven games (in just 80 total minutes of action) showing that he bought into Huggins' exhortations to get to the glass. While he probably wasn't ready to displace Kilicli or Murray, he certainly showed growth during his time on the court, and would have pushed the players around him to improve -- not to mention provided respectable practice competition.
The same could be said for Macon, whose strength and willingness to work inside could have pushed him to a role similar to that filled by Rutledge last year. Again, Macon wasn't going to start or play 20 minutes per game, but he could have earned some spot minutes, especially if he rebounded the ball and played physical defense. Now, however, both of those players are unavailable, leaving the above quartet to handle things inside. Is it enough?
As of now, appearances say yes, although the attrition leaves little room for further problems. Kilicli provides veteran experience and low post scoring. Murray has loads of talent, and if he works hard and consistently could be one of the best bigs in the league. Noreen has bounced back from his injury and provides system knowledge and smarts. He runs the offense better than any other big man on the roster, and makes the right pass to keep the attack moving. Rutledge showed steady improvement over the season and the hope is he can again fill the defensive, rebounding and put-back scoring roles that he did as last year wound down.
That's the optimistic view, of course. If any one of those players don't fulfill those predicted roles, the Mountaineers are again going to be shorthanded. An injury would also make things dire, just as it did the past couple of seasons.
So, what's the final decision? Call it a razor's edge. West Virginia should be ok with the four players it has at the big man spots heading into the season, but it has no margin for error. One more subtraction or failure to achieve, and Huggins will again have to make do with fewer parts than he anticipated.