Monday Musings

As finals week commences in Morgantown, here are a few thoughts and observations around the WVU sports scene.

Brace yourselves Mountaineer fans: the lull is officially underway. By that, of course, I refer to the seemingly endless period of inactivity between the end of basketball season/spring football practice and the beginning of fall football camp.

So, how do you pass the time during this dreaded purgatory? For one, by logging on several times each day to BlueGoldNews.com (gotta pay the bills). Second, buy the NCAA Football 09 video game (it helps pass the time, and as an added bonus cult hero/fullback Owen Schmitt graces the cover of this year's PSP version). Third, stock up on all of the ridiculous preseason prediction magazines, which are either loved or loathed (no in between).

Add it all up, and the lull won't be all that bad. Then again, you could fill the time the old fashioned way: at a ballpark near you.

* * *

What do we know about Bill Stewart and his coaching staff roughly five months into their tenure? Aside from what we learned in spring practice, we know that these guys have made a big impact on the recruiting trail for the class of 2009.

Then again, is that really a surprise? With associate head coach John "Doc" Holliday heading up the recruiting efforts for his alma mater, and veteran BCS conference coaches such as Jeff Mullen, Dave Johnson, David Lockwood and Steve Dunlap joining the ranks, the staff is now full of seasoned recruiters with ties to various parts of the country.

Add in running backs coach Chris Beatty and his rock-solid connections to the Tidewater region of Virginia, and from a recruiting standpoint one could argue that this is without a doubt the strongest staff West Virginia has ever had on the road.

Certainly, the previous staff was held in high regard for its ability to win a ton of games, despite not having a roster overly filled with blue-chip talent. Yet when it came to recruiting, it never quite felt like WVU was able to capitalize on their status as the Big East's best year in and year out with a top class in February.

The current staff will have a lot of work to do on the field to meet the success of their predecessors. However in the realm of recruiting, dare I say there has already been an upgrade?

Perhaps one Mountaineer fan put it best when he compared it to the trade of Gail Goodrich from the Los Angeles Lakers to the New Orleans Jazz in 1976 for two future first-round draft picks and a second-round pick. A few years later, the Lakers would use one of the first-round picks acquired in the deal to select Magic Johnson.

Is my friend's analogy a reach? Too early to tell, but the point of his comparison is valid: sometimes a big change or transition may seem like a risk, but given some time can turn out even better than before.

* * *

And now, for something completely different.

In case you haven't noticed -- and judging by the attendance you haven't -- the Mountaineer baseball team is playing better than its youth-filled roster might have indicated prior to the season.

If the ping of the metal bat is music to your ears, then Hawley Field is the place to be (as if it wasn't already). West Virginia currently sits atop the national rankings in team batting average, which is obviously a large reason for the team's overall success this season.

I've criticized head coach Greg Van Zant in the past for his methodical reliance on small ball (I mean come on...bunting ad nauseum with metal bats??), but there is no criticizing the job GVZ has done with this 2008 team. Clearly, they are better than the 10th place finish predicted by the league's head coaches at the beginning of the year.

With freshmen standouts such as Morgantown native Jedd Gyorko and catcher Tobias Streich, Van Zant also has a couple of cornerstones to build the future of his program around.

* * *

Just because we're less than a week into May doesn't mean it's too early to predict the future, right?

Already, several poll predictions have come out for the 2008-09 men's basketball season, and most of them have the Mountaineers sitting in good shape...with a catch. It seems most observers feel West Virginia, which returns seven of its top nine players from a team that went to the Sweet 16, is a lock for the top 10 with Joe Alexander in the fold.

Without Alexander, however, these same experts feel the Mountaineers fall out of not only the top 10, but the top 25.

Seriously? Don't get me wrong, Alexander is a phenomenal player, and should he return he will be worthy of discussion for All-America status. But one player is not the difference in West Virginia being in the top 10 or out of the top 25.

I haven't seen that much pinned on one player since Darren Collison missed UCLA's 2007 loss in Morgantown.


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