Arc of Improvement

With the status of Joe Mazzulla's injured shoulder still a question mark, the onus will be on true freshman Truck Bryant to continue the improvement he showed in the second half of WVU's come-from-behind win over Duquesne. Is there enough time before the Big East season begins to get him to where he needs to be?

First, a bit about improvement and expectations. The growing process for a freshman often isn't a steady upward curve. Growth comes in fits and starts, much like an adolescent who hits a growth spurt, then stays the same height for a few months. It's neither fair nor realistic to expect a player to make steady improvement and show it from game to game. Certainly, the overall path must trend upward, but just because a player does something in one game, it doesn't mean he's mastered it.

An object lesson in that can be observed from Bryant's play over a few games this fall. Called out by Huggins for pouting during one recent game, Bryant has seemingly taken that to heart, and has played with great effort while listening to everything the coaches have been telling him. That seemed to pay off in the win over Duquesne, when the confident freshman corrected a fundamental first-half flaw to help lead the Mountaineers to a win.

"The difference was that I just slowed down. I've been going too fast," said Bryant, who clearly felt the need to make up for the absence of Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff. "I just thought I would have to score with those guys out, and I was trying to do too much. In the second half I just slowed it down. I was rushing it, and the coaches told me so."

In doing that, Bryant showed improvement not only in his play, but also in the way in which he took criticism and turned it into better play. That's something that all Bob Huggins players have to learn to do. Some, like freshman Kevin Jones, have that ability from the start, while others, like Bryant, have to work to cultivate it. The key, however, will be for Bryant to keep that process moving forward as much as possible.

The same holds true for his on-court decision-making. After a shaky first half, Bryant made better decisions with the ball, and didn't force drives to the basket. His timing and synchronization with his teammates was better, and as a result West Virginia was able to score enough to get the win. However, there's still along way to go in those areas. WVU's half-court offense still suffered breakdowns and inconsistency, as the Mountaineers scored many of their points out of transition or as the result of heave-and-retrieve chances on the offensive boards.

Correcting those issues isn't just a matter of "learning plays" which is just a first step. Players must make the right reads as a result of what the defense does. Then, they must identify when to get the ball to a player cutting off a screen or making a move. It does no good if the pass comes too early or too late – that can be as fatal to a set as running the wrong way or making the wrong read.

While everyone on the floor has to do these things, its incumbent on the point guard to make the correct call and start every time. Those are the sorts of items that Bryant will have to continue to work on – and its no guarantee that one successful half of doing so means its an automatic the next time out.

The signs are encouraging, though. Bryant showed poise in nailing six consecutive free throws down the stretch against the Dukes in a hostile environment (the Duquesne student section was right in his face). He was certainly in a good frame of mind after the game, laughing and answer questions in an animated fashion, which spoke well to his approach to the game. And he also recognized one of West Virginia's big weaknesses that will have to be corrected.

"We have been playing weak in the first half for some reason. We just have to be ready to play from jump. We have been slow to start, but I have been proud of the effort we've made in the second half."

Bryant's path to better play is certainly mapped out, and he seems to have made a good start along the transition from high school to college. It needs to be remembered, however, that the process is still one that's underway.

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