View To The Future

With the commitment of Remi Dibo, West Virginia may have finalized its men's basketball roster for the 2013-14 season. While that list isn't necessarily set in stone, what is assured is that the Mountaineers will look much different than they did in the strife-plagued 2012-13 campaign.

The recent commitments of Dibo and Jonathan Holton have led to a great deal of speculation about rotations and playing time potential for the six members of this year's class, as well as for many of the returnees. Before looking at those possibilities, it's important to keep a couple of things in mind.

First, while many get hung up on slotting players into the traditional spots of point guard, shooting guard, small forward, etc., head coach Bob Huggins is in no way constrained by that notion. When running various versions of the motion offense, and even some more conventional, structured sets, the veteran coach isn't set on having a center, two forwards and two guards on the floor. The distinctions between some of those positions have already blurred greatly in today's game, with terms like "stretch four" (a tall forward who can play on the perimeter) becoming more commonplace, and he's not bound to filling those old style spots.

In light of that, it would be a mistake to try to assign each player to a specific spot. Certainly, some players are suited to just one position that's more easily assigned (e.g., Gary Browne at the one) but Huggins doesn't generally like those limits. He wants guards and forward that can start the offense, shooters that can also put it on the floor, and bigs that can run and play in open space. Think Devin Ebanks playing the point, or Joe Mazzulla on the bottom of the 1-3-.

Second, there's no guarantee that a backlog at one "position" automatically pushes another player to background status. If four wing players are among the best players on the team, they are all going to play, and a system will be devised to get them all more minutes. The fact that WVU has a lot of forwards on this year's team doesn't mean one or two are automatically going to redshirt. It could happen, but it's not guarantee.

With those points in mind, let's look at where the potential 13 scholarship players might fit.

In the backcourt, ballhandling duties will be split between Juwan Staten and Browne. Each has pluses and minuses, but with only two "true" point guards on the roster, both are going to get every chance to play. It would be a bit of a surprise to see both on the court at the same time for long stretches, because they are obviously going to need breaks during games.

Putting those two in a group is the easy part, but as we move to the wing it gets more difficult. Eron Harris and Terry Henderson certainly qualify here as "shooting guards", but the three-point prowess of Dibo and Holton, along with Nathan Adrian, make that trio candidates to fill that role offensively. However, slotting them as "twos", where they would have to cover opposing guards, might be problematic, so in the end the sophomore duo likely gets the bulk of playing time.

Moving to the frontcourt, the mixing and matching continues, with lots of versatility. Adrian showed improved ability to drive the ball during the latter part of his senior season, and the Holton\Dibo duo could also slot as small forwards. Keaton Miles will have a battle to earn playing time, but he could ride his defensive ability to get into the mix.

In the end, WVU could play a lot of different combinations at the two and the three, but look for the Mountaineers to stay away from playing both Harris and Henderson together a great deal, as that would make them a bit smaller than many other combinations would allow.

Even with all those players in the discussion, there are still four more to consider, and they too have a good mix of potential. Kevin Noreen will be the team leader, and could move into more of a Cam Thoroughman role, while Aaric Murray has the potential to become a threat both on the blocks and in the mid-range.

Devin Williams is just the sort of grinding rebounder that Huggins has been missing for several years, while Elijah Macon and Brandon Watkins wil also compete for time in the post and around the lane.

The upshot of all of this is that Huggins will have a number of options to work with. Of course, many of those depend on how the players pick up his system, and it's naive to assume that all will do so equally quickly. However, the nice thing is that as long as two or three of the newcomers can contribute and play early, West Virginia won't be stuck with just one rotation or a handful of players from which to choose.

Consider that the Mountaineers could put out a lineup of Staten, Harris, Dibo, Murray and Williams. It could go even bigger with Holton and\or Macon on the floor in place of, say, Harris and Dibo. It could play high\low in the post with Noreen and Murray, or spread and go smaller with Harris, Henderson, and two forwards.

Of course, this roster can't be considered a lock. There are still graduations and a resolution of Holton's case to be achieved. Returnees must maintain their eligibility, and there's simply no way to predict how each player will respond, or determine their readiness to play, until they get on campus. But it's clear, at least at this point, that the Mountaineers will have many more ways they can potentially play this winter -- and that gives WVU a chance to be a much better team.

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