Basketball Preview - Centers

As practice began, WVU looked as strong at center as they had been in several years. Of course, as most Mountaineer fans have learned , anything that's good seems to soon be accompanied by some counterbalancing misfortune.

In this case, it was the suspension of Chris Garnett for ten days that has darkened the outlook at the five spot.

Garnett, along with returnees John Oliver and Ales Chan, figured to give WVU a three headed center,equipped with fifteen fouls to give in the rugged Big East. And although Garnett has since returned to practice, the fact that he will miss both exhibition games prior to the regular season aptly demonstrates that he is still in Gale Catlett's doghouse.

Before we discuss the problem, let's look at the strengths. The beefed up Oliver (he's checking in at around 255 pounds) knows the ropes in the Big East. Oliver will provide the expected defense and rebounding, but opponents have learned that they can't leave the big guy unguarded. While possessing an awkward looking shot, Oliver has a soft touch and shoots well from the free throw as well as the field. We're not suggesting that Oliver will become a scoring force, but he could pick up a couple of hoops and free throws per game.

Oliver also expects to benefit from the penetration skills of the Mountaineers' new perimeter players. With more drive and dish opportunities, Oliver and the other centers must be ready to receive late passes off drives from teammates who draw switches from opposing defenders. If they are, they could bump their scoring averages by a couple hoops apiece.

Ales Chan
Behind Oliver for the moment is seven foot one inch Ales Chan. Chan also put on a bit of weight and strength over the off season, but he is still underequipped for many Big East front lines. Chan may be able to help in spots, but expecting him to provide more than 2-3 minutes for more than a couple of stretches is likely over-optimistic.

Which brings us to Garnett. The worst thing that could happen would have been for him to miss practice time after sitting out a year, and that's exactly what happened. Scraping off the rust of a year's inactivity is difficult enough, but topping it off with ten days of lost preseason time could be a disaster. You just can't make up 2-3 hours of intensive preseason practice quickly.

One thing Garnett does have is the advantage of having practiced and watched all of last season, so he shouldn't be at sea in knowing the offensive and defensive sets. As anyone who actually plays the game will tell you, though, there's no substitute for game experience.

Chris Garnett
With this setback, Garnett won't begin his familiarization process until the season opener against UNC-Asheville. You can bet that he won't see a lot of action early on, so he's going to have an uphill fight to gain minutes. That's not to say that it's an impossible task, but Garnett could have made things much easier on himself.

So, what was looking promising is now shrouded in questions. Can Oliver and Chan provide enough at the five, or will WVU be forced to slide Chris Moss over? (That's not an attractive option – we like Moss at the four.) Will Garnett be able to work his way back into the rotation? Can Chan provide anything more than spot relief?

Make no mistake – even though the five will be the lowest scoring position on the floor, its importance can't be underrated. Given a solid front line, this team could challenge for an NCAA bid. If the position is weak, that will probably be a pipe dream.

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