The player? Wellington Smith. Now, it's probably not fair to heap all of West Virginia's hopes for the 2009-10 season on the shoulders of the ultra-athletic senior, and that's certainly not the intent here. If WVU doesn't finish in the top four in the Big East, or has a short stay in postseason tournaments, it doesn't mean that it's the New Jersey native's fault. However, if Smith can simply play as he did in West Virginia's win over DePaul, then the Mountaineers will have a great chance to make deep runs in tournament play.
No one expects Smith to match Da'Sean Butler shot for shot, but if the 6-7 forward can step out and hit open threes, as he did at the start of both halves against the Blue Demons, it brings another dynamic to the team. West Virginia's shooting woes have been well documented, and at this point in the season no one expects the Mountaineers to suddenly begin draining shots like Reggie Miller. However, if WVU can get another player that has to be covered outside, it should make the offense a bit more difficult to deal with.
Smith certainly has the ability to do so. When he gets the ball into the right shooting position, his form and release are silky-smooth – just like the ball as it goes through the net. And the good thing about this need is that it's not as if Smith has to hit four threes per game as he did against DePaul. If he just makes a couple at key points, and helps force the zones that WVU has seen recently to move away from the basket, then West Virginia's offense has the chance to avoid the scoring droughts that have plagued it many times this year.
The second area of play to watch is defense – and particularly, personal fouls. Smith has been plagued with fouls throughout his career, and he leads the team with 56 whistles this year. Many of those fouls have come due to the fact that he matches up defensively with the biggest opposing players –guys that are true centers and who often outweigh him by considerable margins. However, a percentage of those calls have been of the "what was he thinking?" variety, and it's those that have lead to short minutes in a number of contest, such as the 15 he saw against Long Beach or the 14 he totaled against Syracuse. If he can avoid the mental mistake fouls, he obviously ups his chances to stay on the floor.
Rebounding, one of the focal points of any Bob Huggins team, has also been a hit and miss result for Smith. Facing off against opposing centers, he sometimes may have to focus just on keeping his man away from the hoop as job one. However, once that player is blocked out, he has to be more aggressive in going to get the ball for himself. That's a tough task, and a tiring one, but if he can grab five or six boards per contest, WVU should be able to continue its rebounding dominance against most foes.
The encouraging trend in all of this is that Smith has played well in WVU's two most recent outings. He hit a total of seven three pointers against Ohio State and DePaul, but just as importantly grabbed eight rebounds while committing five fouls. He had just one turnover while making nine of his 13 shots from the field, and averaged 12.5 points in the two games. That's good production.
As noted up front, Smith shouldn't be expected to hit four threes per game the rest of the way. But if he can be consistent the rest of the year (say, ten points, six rebounds, and a blocked shot or two), many of those lofty Mountaineer goals will be within reach.