Injury Impact

Although West Virginia hasn't seen a great deal of snow so far this year, something between a flurry and a blizzard of a different sort is hovering over the men's basketball team.

Unfortunately, it's not the six-pointed snowflakes that skiers and outdoors types are anticipating. Rather, it's the dreaded "flurry of injuries" that have settled over the program. While none of the damage appears to be season-threatening, it's clearly a concern for a team that is razor-thin on depth to begin with.

The problems began even before the team reassembled following Christmas break, when Devin Williams suffered back spasms and stiffness due to the long bus ride from his home in Cincinnati back to campus. That eight-plus hour journey left him hobbled, causing him to miss practice time and not start against William & Mary on Sunday. When he did enter, he was clearly not his usual active self, and he shuttled in and out of the game several times, twice resorting to stretching out on the baseline in an attempt to alleviate his discomfort. He ended up playing just 13 minutes (to his credit he snared six rebounds in that short time).

Once practices began, Brandon Watkins felt the brunt of the bug, as he and a teammate crashed together, resulting in two lost teeth and a very swollen mouth and jaw for the freshman. Watkins apparently was hit in the face just a few moments after tip-off of the W&M game, and while he did get back into the action, his 11 minutes on the court were clearly not what Bob Huggins had in mind for him coming in to the contest.

Just a few minutes later, Nathan Adrian was crunched in the face for the second time in as many games, and this time it left him with a broken nose. He likewise toughed it out and played very well, scoring 16 points, but like Williams he was limited in playing time, tallying just 15 on an afternoon when shots were falling like rain for him.

Finally, with several minutes still to go, Gary Browne had ice bags taped to both knees on the bench. Some sort of bang, bump or bruise seems to be the norm for the hard-playing junior, but following so quickly on the heels of the thigh injury that limited him over the first couple of weeks of the season, the concern of mileage and wear and tear on him also has to be a concern.

Head coach Bob Huggins hasn't been immune to the avalanche either – he's been battling some back problems that have led to the placement of a stool for him to sit on while watching games. He admits that his team has been "banged up", but through the vehicle of comparing "hurt" to "injury", seemed to express the thought that none of the maladies should cause a large loss of playing time.

While that point is valid, so too are the stats from the W&M game. West Virginia won't win many, if any, games in the Big 12 where Williams and Watkins combine for 24 minutes. They'll need Gary Browne at full speed to help make halfcourt traps effective, and to provide rest for Juwan Staten. Adrian is a vital piece of the shooting puzzle, but he can't just stand outside and shoot – he also has to compete on the boards and on defense (which has been improving) to give WVU a chance to win.

The good news, as noted, is that none of the injuries appear to be season-ending types. However, anyone who has had back spasms or other issues knows that they are nothing to fool around with, and that they are hard to predict. Williams could get loosened up and suffer no more ill effects, or it could be a lingering problem. It's one of those things that only time will tell with. Browne's frenetic style of play seems to always lead to some sort of bang or mishap, but he wouldn't be the player he is without that effort, so those are things that he'll likely deal with for the remainder of his career. Watkins said he has several more trips to the dentist for repair work, but while those will likely be scheduled around practices, he'll still have to deal with the pain and swelling there for at least a couple of weeks. Adrian is in the same boat, although he indicated that wearing a mask for protection likely wasn't in the offing.

The bigger concern with the cumulative effect of all of these injury problems is the loss of cohesive practice time. WVU needs to have its players on the floor for every second it can – especially the freshmen, who still need those endless reps to improve. It's there that the impact of injuries is truly felt, and where it could have an impact on WVU's Big 12 performance. The hope is that missed time will be limited, but it's definitely an issue to track as the Mountaineers prepare for their first conference road trip of the season.


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