Playing Big: WVU Frontcourt in Key Roles

Without a doubt, guard Gary Browne deserves every bit of credit he's received for West Virginia's 78-67 win over TCU on Saturday. There's another group, though, that provided a sizable supporting boost.

Browne was outstanding in the second half of the win, directing the WVU offense and dissecting the TCU defense over the final ten minutes of the game. However, he got help, and West Virginia stayed close, due to the combined efforts of Devin Williams, Brandon Watkins, Nathan Adrian and Elijah Macon. Each, at different points in the contest, provided key plays to help keep the Mountaineers in contact or sustain its lead.

Williams is the easiest to pick out. The broad-shouldered sophomore shook off a terrible early start (two turnovers on his first two touches, two points and one rebound in the first half) to dominate action in the second. He finished with 14 points and eight boards while overwhelming TCU's Chris Washburn and Karviar Shepherd.

Just as importantly, Mountaineers off the bench filled in ably while Williams struggled. Brandon Watkins, who has developed a nice right handed jump hook to complement his excellent baseline jumper, hit a pair of back-to-back buckets in the firs half after the Mountaineers fell behind by ten points. His scores helped spark a WVU rally that left the Mountaineers down just two points at the break. Watkins ended up with six points and eight rebounds in just seven minutes of game action -- a massive contribution in a short amount of time.

Although his numbers weren't as good, Elijah Macon also helped fill the void. He hit a pair of free throws and grabbed three rebounds in his eight minutes on the court, and helped contain TCU's inside game on the defensive end. Nathan Adrian also got into the inside game, scoring from the blocks while being fouled and converting the ensuing free throw to keep WVU close in the early going.

Viewed by themselves, the lines of each of the subs might be overlooked, especially those of Macon and Adrian. However, when combined, they achieved two main goals -- they filled in for Williams while he was struggling, and provided support for Browne's starring role.

The totals also don't include those of Jonathan Holton, whose productivity can't be measured simply by points and rebounds, although his nine and three in this game were certainly valuable. His presence on the press is invaluable, he keeps balls alive on the boards, and plays with a passion that is infectious.

The only negative with the group is fouls, and that's something that will likely be an issue for much of the year. West Virginia's big men are often put in tough positions in the press, as they can wind up facing guards flying down the court after breaking traps at the front of the defense. Add in the normal fouls one expects when playing post defense, and a rash of silly ones that have plagued the Mountaineers through the first 14 games, and the biggest problem facing the group has been simply staying on the court. Watkins would have easily had a double-double had he not picked up three fouls in a 48-second stretch midway through the second half, and Macon would have also piled up more numbers had he not fouled out after just eight minutes of action.

Given West Virginia's pressing style, some fouls are going to occur. What the big men must do is avoid the cheap ones (such as Watkins' push on a missed free throw attempt) and play with a bit more savvy. However, even on an afternoon in which WVU was whistled for 33 infractions, the Mountaineers were able to weather the storm. It's not going to win a lot of games with that total, but it has enough productive players to fill in when one or two are saddled with foul problems.

The season has been filled with encouraging signs for continued development for the inside corps. Macon and Watkins are slowly becoming more comfortable on offense. Williams can be a bull on the boards. Adrian shows hints of being able to score in the lane and mid-range while battling to overcome a shooting slump from long range. If those continue to develop, even at a slow pace, West Virginia could be looking at a top-tier finish in the Big 12, and a seriously good NCAA seed.


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