2011/11/29 1:41 pm
Two games remain that will decide West Virginia's postseason football fate, over only one of which the Mountaineers can actually exercise any control.
After rallying to hold off Pittsburgh Friday night, 21-20, in what will likely be the last Backyard Brawl for at least a couple of years, No. 20 WVU moved back into the polls and moved closer to a potential BCS bowl berth that accompanies a Big East championship.
It was West Virginia's third straight victory over the Panthers and the 15th in the last 22 meetings versus the Panthers since 1990. The win was even sweeter for die-hard Pitt haters as the Panthers will have to win Saturday against Syracuse just be bowl eligible.
An artist's rendering of what WVU did to Pitt on Friday. (More specifically, what Stedman Bailey did to them.)
The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) have one game remaining at unranked South Florida (5-6,1-5) Thursday night. Those same Bulls could have made things much easier on WVU had they simply knocked off Louisville this past weekend, a victory that would have put WVU's destiny back into its own hands. But USF couldn't hold an early lead, falling 34-24 and guaranteeing the Cardinals (7-5, 5-2) at least a share of the Big East conference title.
Now WVU needs a win against South Florida to force at least a two-way tie for the Big East title. But the rub in that setup is that the tie would be with Louisville, which would win a tiebreaker over the Mountaineers thanks to the Gold and Blue home field meltdown against the Cardinals three weeks ago.
Thanks to the Mountaineers' generosity, Louisville stands to be the latest in a lengthening line of BCS blowouts-waiting-to-happen, following Pittsburgh (35-7 loss to Utah in 2004/05); Cincinnati twice (losing 20-7 to Virginia Tech in 2008/09, and 51-24 to Florida the next year); and Connecticut (a 48-20 victim of Oklahoma last year).
To keep that from happening, WVU must take care of business with USF and then tune into the Cincinnati game at UConn Saturday at Noon. If the Bearcats can pull out the victory, they would join the Cards and WVU in sharing the league title three ways.
In that scenario, in which WVU beat Cincy, the Bearcats beat U of L, and the Cards knocked off WVU, the BCS bid goes to the highest-ranked team in the BCS ratings, per Big East rules.
If Cincy can't pull out the win, get ready to laugh along with the rest of the country as Clemson or Virginia Tech devastates the Cards in the Orange Bowl, giving the Big East yet another black eye in the national spotlight.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, will be buying somewhat upscale clothes at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
As expected, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen is keeping his team focused only on what can be controlled on the gridiron.
"We (don't) talk about it. We haven't talked about it all week,'' Holgorsen said in this Charleston Gazette article. "There was nothing we could do to help South Florida beat Louisville or what Cincinnati does or whatever. I mean, we can't control any of that.
“We've been talking about it [in team meetings] for two weeks as far as just worrying about what you can control. And the only thing we could do was doing our best to beat Pitt.''
Shawne Alston powers over Pitt for the game-winning touchdown.
Photo by Couch Member dubv
West Virginia looked like even that was a long shot early on against the Panthers, falling behind 20-7 in the second quarter thanks to a boatload of inept penalties, continued special teams miscues, and turnovers.
But WVU never gave in, using an adjustment on the right side of the offensive line to key two touchdown drives to take the lead. Freshman Quinton Spain and sophomore Curtis Feight took over duties on the right end, and Shawne Alston took advantage by punching in two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
After rushing for minus-2 yards in the first half, WVU adjusted the O-line with the duo taking over for Tyler Rader and Pat Eger to finish with 115 yards on the ground. Certainly not setting the world on fire, but it proved to be significant progress for a ground game that's struggled all year.
Spain and Feight will start against USF Thursday, which has allowed 105 yards rushing to opponents with an average of 2.7 yards per carry.
The Mountaineer's passing game was stalled somewhat from its usual stat-sheet fireworks, but junior QB Geno Smith still managed to break several records with his 241 yards on 22-of-31 passing. Smith finished with one touchdown, while his totals set new school single-season records for passing attempts, completions, yards, and total offense.
On the receiving end of the lone TD strike was Stedman Bailey, who finished with three catches for 80 yards, mostly from the 63-yard score. Bailey's stats moved him into the top spot for single-season receiving yards.
Receiver Stedman Bailey set the season record for receiving yards and finished with three receptions for 80 yards and a 63-yard touchdown. Tavon Austin caught 10 passes for 102 yards.
The WVU defense entered the Backyard Brawl with just 16 sacks total, but the unit blasted the Panthers' Tino Sunseri for 10 sacks, nine coming at crucial times down the final 25-play stretch.
Julian Miller led the way with a school-record tying 4 QB stuffs, all coming on his Senior Night and his birthday. Miller was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week for his effort, the second time in three weeks he's won the honor. He had 12 tackles total and two crucial sacks on Pitt's final drive, adding to his FBS-leading 27.5 career sacks.
After a rough early start, the defense held Pitt to just 4-of-20 success and matched the most sacks it's ever had in a Big East game. Pitt also had to settle for two field goals despite gaining field position deep in WVU territory after a fumbled punt return and turnover when a Mountaineer punt hit a WVU defender.
"You bitches enjoy the ACC."
The unit helped West Virginia over its three turnovers, along with its nearly 13-minute deficit in time of possession. The Mountaineers won despite converting just 2-of-12 third downs.
Oddly enough, the team's turnaround began with special teams. Former starter Corey Smith took his job back after Michael Molinari shanked a couple of punts for 22 and 27 yards to set up the Panthers. Smith averaged 57.2 yards on four kicks, totaling punts of 57, 50, 62 and 60 yards with two kicks inside the 20 of the opposition and one on the Pitt 2.
The 60-yard booted helped back the Panthers up too far to rally in the game's final drive in the last two minutes.
"It's a one-game season and we've got to make sure we come out focused and ready to play," Smith said in this ESPN article. "We can't have any letdowns."
South Florida started the season 4-0, including a victory at Notre Dame, but the Bulls have fallen off dramatically as of late, losing six of seven games. The Bulls need a win Thursday to avoid missing a bowl for the first time since 2004.
West Virginia beat USF 20-6 in Morgantown last year, but the Mountaineers have lost two in a row in Tampa. West Virginia lost 30-19 in 2009 and 21-13 in 2007 in its last two games at USF.
The Bulls have lost three straight at home, and will likely need former walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld to lead them out of that skid.
Eveld, who replaced injured senior B.J. Daniels two weeks ago, completed 20 of 35 for 210 yards, a TD and an interception in last week's loss against Louisville. The sophomore looked sharp early in helping USF to a 14-point lead, but he couldn't rally past a stiffer U of L defense in the second half.
For WVU, Smith leads the Big East with 3,741 passing yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions. USF's defense has allowed opponents 22 points per game, while WVU is averaging more than 35 points per contest.
The Mountaineers and Bulls kick off Thursday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
2011/11/28 8:22 pm
There's a new football coach in Morgantown since the last WVU Basketball Season Preview article, but losses to Syracuse and Louisville make it necessary to run the same intro to the 2011-2012 WVU Basketball Season Preview that has appeared for four straight years now:
This year, my eager anticipation for WVU basketball is at an all-time high, almost certainly brought about by the repugnant stench coming from the other end of Patteson Drive.
This year's preview is particularly important since the Mountaineers have more freshmen on their roster than you'd find at the end of a semester's worth of fraternity paddles. Additionally, it appears as if this might be the last year of Big East play for the Mountaineers, with the University's lawsuit to leave the conference early to join the Big 12 next season. (At least they certainly seem to think it's happening next year...)
I can't imagine seeing this leaked picture of WVU's practice facility floor made a whole lot of folks in the Big East happy...
While it is admittedly a bit of a cop-out to release a "preview" article after four games have already taken place, my defense is twofold:
1) I am lazy.
2) How could you possibly know how so many freshmen would play without seeing them a few times?
The important thing is that the finest WVU Basketball Prediction Article In the Land has returned once again to break down both the players on the team and the predictions of success (or lack thereof) for the Mountaineers this season.
So let's get to it.
(All statistics provided by statsheet.com unless otherwise noted.)
Last season was a bit of a roller coaster ride for Mountaineer fans. The highs were high (wins over ranked teams like Purdue, Georgetown, Louisville, and eventual NCAA Champion Connecticut- in March no less) and the lows were low (2 losses to Marquette, including the opening game of the Big East Tournament, losses to Miami and... ugh... Marshall).
The season ended about how it should have, with a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament over Clemson coming on the back of sheer willpower, and a loss to eventual Final 4 team Kentucky after WVU led by 8 points at the half.
The Mountaineers weren't very consistent last year, as evidenced by the fact that they didn't have a winning streak longer than 4 games all season.
They also couldn't shoot the ball worth a damn, as evidenced by their 69.8 points per game and 42.9 field goal percentage, good for 141st and 207th in the nation, respectively.
Key contributors gone from that team are Joe Mazzulla (a 12th year senior who couldn't shoot but played solid defense), Cam Thoroughman (hustle player with little to no actual basketball ability), Casey Mitchell (a streak shooter if ever there was one), and John Flowers (highly-motivated energy player with occasional shooting ability). WVU also loses Dalton Pepper (transferred), Jonny West, and Dan Jennings (who left midway through last season after basically quitting on the team.)
Notice that I didn't name a single person that ever made an All-Big East team in that list, and you'll see that while WVU is bringing freshmen galore into the fold this year, they'll essentially be replacing role players.
So let's get to the guys still on the team this year...
- Kevin Jones, F (senior)
It seems like just yesterday that this sweet-shooting 6'8'' forward came into our lives and has been a consistent presence in the paint ever since.
He cleans the boards, he's a good defender, and he's got that ability to step away from the basket that every fan dreams of in a power forward.
It doesn't hurt that he's a great player, but KJ is one of my favorite Mountaineer basketball players of all-time mainly because his attitude and work ethic make it nearly impossible to dislike the kid. You never see him dogging a teammate or a referee, feuding with his coach, fighting with an opponent, or any other negative trait many current players have.
Jones was listed on the preseason Wooden Award list (top 50 college basketball players) and the All-Big East First Team. (He's the only Mountaineer on either the First, Second, or Third All-Big East teams, for what it's worth.) He was also named as a candidate for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, given annually to a student athlete for contributions in community, classroom, character, and competition. (Mountaineer fans might recall that Da'Sean Butler won the award in 2010.)
KJ briefly considered entering the NBA draft last Spring, but made a savvy decision by deciding to return to school rather than joining a league that is apparently not going to have a season this year.
As for his on-the-court accomplishments, KJ actually took a small step backwards last year, perhaps as a result of being forced into a role he's never been quite suited for- that of the go-to guy.
KJ mostly suffered last season from a diminished ability to hit the 3-ball that made him one of the Mountaineers' most effective weapons in their Final Four run in 2010, when he hit over 40% from behind the line. Last year saw KJ hitting only 30%, a marked drop. His free throw percentage also dropped from 66% to 60% (I've never understood why a guy that can shoot as well as KJ from the outside doesn't have a higher FT%).
Never the most athletic guy on the floor (as evidenced by his cringe-inducing missed dunk last week), KJ makes his living by out-hustling and out-positioning opposing teams on the block while collecting rebound after rebound. He's also developed a nice post-up game which allows the Mountaineers to have two low-post threats on the floor when he's partnered with Kilicli on the other side of the floor.
Unfortunately with that new-found ability to post-up comes new-found double teams on the block, and at this point, the Mountaineers haven't demonstrated that they have ANY idea of what to do when that happens, with KJ and The Turk turning the ball over with regularity in that situation. Huggybear will surely have a solution to this problem shortly.
All said, Kevin Jones is a rock in the middle of the Mountaineer frontcourt that has consistently performed to the level of an all-time Mountaineer, and his ability combined with his attitude make him an absolute joy to watch on the basketball court. In short, Kevin Jones makes me proud to be a Mountaineer fan.
Seriously, do a Google images search and try to find a picture where Kevin Jones isn't smiling.
- Darryl "Truck" Bryant, G (senior)
Truck is what he is. He's progressed very little from his freshman season to this point, so you know what you're getting as the season plays itself out. Somewhere between 11-15 points per game, 34% from the floor, and almost as many turnovers as assists.
I know it seems harsh to say, but just look at this chart from statsheet.com:
First and foremost, ignore the 2011-2012 portion of this chart (the far right points) as 3 games is hardly enough of a sample size to either criticize or praise any player.
Notice that as Truck's minutes increased, so did his points, which is to be expected. But his shooting percentage has gone down every single season he's played.
The most troubling statistic with Truck has always been his assist-to-turnover ratio, typically the go-to stat when it comes to point guards.
- Freshman season- 1.3 assists for every turnover
- Sophomore season- 1.5 assists for every turnover
- Junior season- 1.4 assists for every turnover.
Put in perspective, a good point guard in college basketball is usually around at least 3 or 4 assists per turnover. Truck was 37th in the Big East alone in this category last year.
Again, 3 games is too small of a sample size to judge any player, but so far this season it doesn't look like Truck's learned ANYTHING since his freshman season. He's still a walking turnover machine, still jumps into the tallest player on the floor looking for foul calls (sometimes he gets them, sometimes he doesn't), and still commits dumb fouls with regularity.
One positive side of Truck is that he seems to be one of the few players on the Mountaineers this season that is capable of even hitting the rim from 3-point territory, so his outside shooting could provide Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli some room to operate inside.
Mountaineer fans will just have to grit their teeth this year and hope that Good Truck comes out more often than Bad Truck, or a Bad Season could be a serious possibility.
It's not an unusual sight for me to turn to the bottle after Truck leads a fast break.
- Deniz "The Turk" Kilicli, C/F (junior)
A crowd favorite (for obvious reasons), The Turk gives the Mountaineers one of the most dangerous low-post scoring threats in the Big East (and maybe in the nation). Noticeably hairier and more athletic this year, Kilicli has a knack for scoring in the post that you just don't see with many collegiate players.
Though right-handed, The Turk shoots almost exclusively with his left hand from the post, and strangely, every defender he's ever faced seems surprised by this. He has a plethora of moves down there which leave many post defenders confused and prone to foul, so it would be helpful if he started hitting more than 57% of his free throws.
Kilicli has frustrated many Mountaineer fans at this point in his career for his propensity to commit silly fouls that put him in foul trouble and limit his minutes on the floor. He also grabs fewer rebounds than someone his size playing almost 30 minutes a game should gather. (Only around 4 per game.)
He seems to have improved on both levels so far this season, but again, a 3-game sample is hardly enough to draw any major conclusions.
If the Mountaineers are to return to the NCAA Tournament this year, they'll need both Kilicli and KJ scoring consistently from the post, as the perimeter options are untested and unknown for WVU this year. Like KJ, Kilicli also needs to work on what to do when the double-team comes, as he's prone to turning the ball over in that situation.
And if he's scoring as consistently from the post as he's capable of, those double-teams should be coming early and often.
- Jabarie Hinds, PG (freshman)
The most highly-touted freshman in Morgantown since Devin Ebanks, Jabarie Hinds is an exciting point guard that gives Mountaineer fans hope for strong backcourt play for years to come.
Hinds, from Mt. Vernon High School in NY like Kevin Jones, is a lefty with amazing speed and athleticism that has already been on display through his first 3 games as a Mountaineer. He's already better on a fast break than Truck Bryant is, (both in terms of finishing and dishing the ball off) and perhaps understandably, has pushed Truck into more of a shooting guard role this season (which perhaps suits Truck better anyway).
Hinds has the potential to be an elite perimeter defender. His athleticism allows him to pester opposing ballhandlers on defense in such a manner that he reminds me of Joe Mazzulla in terms of tenacity and speed, only with more lateral quickness. (This is intended as a major compliment.) Through 3 games, he's averaging 3 steals a game and looks like he's going to be annoying the living hell out of opposing guards for a long, long time.
As with any freshman point guard, Hinds is going to struggle with turnovers, both in regular sets and when facing full-court pressure from other teams. His shot from the outside could be inconsistent, but he has already demonstrated an ability to slash and score that hasn't been seen from the Mountaineer backcourt in quite some time.
While it's early and I don't want to get my hopes up, it also appears that the Mountaineers have successfully replaced Cam Thoroughman with Hinds as Mountaineer Player Whose Mouth Is Hilariously Agape In Every Picture. Behold:
Regardless of Hinds' propensity for open-mouthed photographs, as someone who has been frustrated with point guard play since the departure of Darris Nichols, I'm extremely excited to watch this kid lead the Mountaineers' backcourt for the next few years.
- Keaton Miles, F (freshman)
Keaton Miles is another highly-touted freshman starting for the Mountaineers this year that oozes potential. Though he's had a hard time putting it on the floor through his first three games as a Mountaineer (shooting a ghastly 1-8 with a few airballed three-pointers), Miles is a 6'6'', 4-star forward from Lincoln High School (Dallas, TX) that demonstrated versatility and extreme athleticism in high school.
Understandably, his first few games at the D-1 level haven't exactly demonstrated his ability, but according to all accounts from his high school days, Miles provides an array of scoring options from 15-feet and in, allowing his athleticism to get to the rim for scoring opportunities. At this point, he looks like Coach Huggins might be blowing his mind with some new offensive sets and he doesn't seem comfortable quite yet.
Miles does already demonstrate an ability to defend both the post and perimeter, using his size and athleticism for solid positioning. He also should be an asset on the boards that KJ and The Turk aren't already scooping up themselves.
In a refrain that will be fairly common both this season and in this preview column, Miles has plenty of potential, but the Mountaineers' success on the floor this season will require him to meet at least SOME of that potential sooner rather than later.
- Gary Browne, PG (freshman)
Oddly, the two most capable freshmen off the bench for the Mountaineers are both named Brown(e), leading to approximately 4,000 times this season my wife will probably say, "Now which Brown is that again?"
This Brown(e) is a very capable point guard from Puerto Rico who actually has a considerable amount of experience in high-level competition for someone his age. As this ESPN Insider article notes, he was named Puerto Rico's player of the year in his junior season before heading to the US and Arlington Country Day School in Florida for his senior season. Last year, he was the leading scorer for the U-18 Puerto Rican National Team as a 2-guard, demonstrating ability as a scorer from long-range, though point guard is his natural position.
As this article from WVIllustrated.com notes, "Through four games, he's the team's third-leading rebounder behind Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. As a backup point guard." (Though that almost speaks more to the lack of rebounding after KJ and The Turk than Browne's specific skill set.)
Browne has been the first player off the bench for the Mountaineers so far this season, demonstrating unusual poise for an 18-year old point guard. He's also gotten the attention of his teammates, as noted in this article from wvmetronews.com after Browne's solid performance in Tuesday's Moorehead State game:
“Gary Browne has improved a lot. He’s had a tough time. Coach has really been on him the last couple of games, but he’s our point guard,” said forward Kevin Jones. “He has to go out there and lead us and he’s stepped up really well for us tonight and we are going to need for him to keep improving in order for him to lead us.”
If Truck Bryant is struggling with either poor play or foul trouble (which you can probably tell from the above preview that I expect to happen a decent amount), expect to see plenty of Gary Browne.
Like Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne looks to give the Mountaineers a solid option in the backcourt for years to come.
Photo by wvillustrated.com
- Pat Forsythe, C (freshman)
One of the first legitimate centers in Bob Huggins' tenure at West Virginia is 6'10'' freshman Pat Forsythe out of Brunswick, OH. One of the youngest members of the Mountaineer basketball team (he just turned 18 in July) Forsythe was not highly recruited until before a workout tape surfaced before his senior year that had recruiters floored, then the offers started rolling in.
Forsythe might not be done growing, as he sprouted 2 inches going into his senior year which saw him average average 22.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 6.1 blocks per game while shooting 66% from the floor.
It seems apparent through the Mountaineers first four games that Forsythe is about as raw as an uncooked steak (in his first game he finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 blocks, 0 assists, and 5 fouls in 14 minutes of game time), but he has already shown glimpses of his potential to hit the boards and alter some shots.
And believe me, with absolutely ZERO shotblocking coming from anyone I've named in this preview so far, any help Forsythe can provide in that respect would be welcomed.
- Aaron Brown, F/G (freshman)
The other Brown is a sweet-shooting lefty that has already demonstrated his ability from the outside in the first four games this season, hitting 4 of 9 from 3-point range. (His barrage of outside shots in the first game against Oral Roberts caused my first, "Who the hell is THIS kid?" of the year.)
Brown is a 6'5'' forward/shooting guard out of Penn Wood High School in Philadelphia, PA, where he averaged 19 points and just over 7 rebounds in his senior year.
Brown should give the Mountaineers an outside threat this season to compliment the inside game of KJ and The Turk, and should see enough minutes to contribute.
If nothing else, it should be entertaining to watch him dealing with Coach Huggins, as he reported in this interview that he wanted to come to WVU because "[Coach Huggins] is
just real laid back and I like that about a coach."
- Kevin Noreen, F (redshirt freshman)
Noreen is the only guy coming off of the bench that Mountaineer fans had ever seen before this season, playing in 6 games last season before undergoing surgery on his right knee and qualifying for a medical redshirt. The most remarkable thing about his contributions last year were that there were no other freshmen on the Mountaineer roster available to contribute even that much.
In limited action, the 6'10'' forward seemed adept at hitting the glass on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, with a nice touch around the rim. It seemed that he might have a chance to mesh well with the Mountaineers last season before his injury, even though he only appeared in spot duty. So far this season it seems like Forsythe is Coach Huggins' first option off the bench, with Noreen available if necessary.
- Paul Williamson, G (freshman)
A walk-on freshman from Logan, West Virginia, no one really expected much from Paul Williamson this year, perhaps even Paul Williamson, who admitted that he was surprised to hear Coach Huggins call his name to come into the third game of the season against Alcorn State.
"I was kind of just stunned,'' Williamson said in this very good Charleston Gazette article. "I can't even explain it. I was just kind of stunned that he called my name so early.
"At first it just went through my mind like, 'Did he just say my name?' And then he said it again and I thought, 'Oh my gosh.' I took my shirt off and I went up and I was trying to calm myself.''
Williamson calmed himself to the extent that he drained the first shot of his NCAA career, a 3-pointer, then another one shortly thereafter. Just for good measure, he hit another pair in the next game against Morehead State, leaving him 4-6 in 2 games this season.
While his defense leaves something to be desired, Williamson can see himself in the role vacated by Jonny West's graduation- that of a deadeye shooter in spot situations. (And as noted in Aaron Brown's preview section, the Mountaineers can use all the outside shooting they can get.)
Williamson had a chance to play in other lower-level D-1 schools on scholarship, but instead chose to walk on to his home state team. For what it's worth, he's earned high praise from his home state fans and his home state coach:
"Paul comes in and listens and tries to do what he is supposed to do," says Bob Huggins in this article from wvillustrated.com. "Paul can make shots and he is going to play hard and you know what he is going to give you."
Two words- Fan. Favorite.
- Dominique Rutledge, F (Junior)
Dominique Rutledge is a highly-touted junior college transfer standing 6'8'', 240. Unfortunately, he's already found his way into Coach Huggins doghouse in his short time in Morgantown so far, earning a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Rutledge's path to the Mountaineers is a somewhat confusing one. Originally ruled academically ineligible after committing to St. Joe's out of high school in 2007-2008, he spent 2008-09 at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College and 2009-10 at Miami Dade before going to Western Texas College, where he didn't even play in games, but just practiced with the team.
According to quotes from Western Texas College coach Jason Sautter from this article, "He played at Miami Dade and his grades weren’t where they needed to be and so he contacted us and said that he heard I’m not the easiest guy in the world to be around but I stay on top of guys and make sure they do what they’re supposed to do."
That same article gives a handy scouting report of Rutledge from none other than Coach Sautter himself:
“He can handle the ball. He can play the four or the five. He can guard anywhere from a three to a five. If he has to guard a two, he can.
“He’s very consistent from 15 feet in. If he has to shoot a 3 he can hit that as well. He’s not afraid to bang, not afraid to run. He can pass it. He can handle it. He can play a little inside-out. He has good hands and rebounds very well.”
So far in the season, it doesn't look like Rutledge has earned the trust of Coach Huggins, playing only 6 total minutes in all four games. Mountaineer fans hope that whatever it was that caused him to get suspended has been addressed, as WVU players butting heads with Coach Huggins don't typically stay around very long. Just ask Noah Cottrill and Dan Jennings.
- Tommie McCune, F (Freshman)
McCune is another long (6'8''), skinny (205 pounds) freshman with potential but not much in the way of ability to contribute for the Mountaineers right away. He's also already seen some trouble in Morgantown after being charged with shoplifting in August, but has apparently satisfied the Mountaineer coaching staff that he's responsible enough to earn a few minutes in the games so far this season.
McCune, a freshman out of Saginaw, Michigan, has a nice touch around the basket and an unusual ability to handle the basketball for a forward his size. If he can stay out of trouble and hit the famous Huggins Weight Gain Program (which is certainly more effective than the Jude Weight Gain Program from college, which consisted of potato skins and cases of Natural Light), then he should be ok.
I feel like if you've made it this far in the WVU Basketball Season Preview, you're probably aware that we've gotten pretty effing good at this prediction business on the Couch. And if nothing else, we're pretty effing good at telling you how effing good we are, so I'll fill in the uninitiated:
- 2005-2006, correctly predicted not only that WVU would finish 3rd in the Big East, but also nailed the EXACT SEED that the Mountaineers would have in the Tournament (6).
- 2006-2007, correctly predicted an 8th place-finish in the Big East and an NIT run (WVU finished in a 3-way tie for 7th in the Big East and won the NIT)
- 2007-2008, correctly predicted WVU's exact number of regular season wins (22), their exact finishing place in the Big East (they finished tied with Marquette for 5th at 11-7), and their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. (To be fair, I missed their seed by 3.)
- 2008-2009- 1 game off the final record, 2 spots off the Big East rank, and 1 seed off the NCAA Tournament appearance.
- The magical 2009-2010 season, unquestionably my best work. 1 game off the final record, nailed the Big East 2nd place finish, called the Big East Tournament Championship (I'm not making this up, it's on record), and the NCAA Tournament seed while saying it would be a "season for the ages."
- As compared to that insanity, last year was a step back. I missed the final record by a single game (again), correctly predicted WVU would finish 6th in the Big East (they tied with Cincinnati), but missed on the NCAA Tournament seed, predicting an 8-seed when they got a 5. (In my defense, it was an unusually bad season for college basketball. Normally a 20-10 team wouldn't sniff a 5-seed.)
Thank you, Mr. President. At least someone appreciates greatness when they see it.
(PS- At this point I am also compelled to mention that Couch Contributor PB has correctly predicted WVU's exact record two seasons in a row. See the previous links to verify. His prize for this precision is this shout-out. We are cheap bastards here at the Couch.)
So let's get to this season's predictions. Granted, we have a little bit of an unfair advantage after seeing 4 games already, but I seriously doubt anyone's really learned anything in these first four games that they didn't already know about the team. "What, the freshmen are going to be hit and miss? THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING!!"
So long Big East Basketball, we hardly knew ye. Off we go to establish rivalries with...Kansas State? Texas? The Permian Panthers?
Regardless, like our gridiron warriors, this doesn't appear to be a successful season for Kevin Jones and others as they attempt to perform a victory lap around the conference schools. But I didn't have to tell you that after the Mountaineers already dropped an exhibition game to
That said, I see Huggins' squad going 17-16 while channeling the Ghost of Gale Catlett and losing our opening round Big East Tournament game. Perhaps we can win another NIT championship, assuming the tourney still exists and that Darris Nichols has an additional year of eligibility.
This year's Mountaineer basketball team will drive us (and Huggs) absolutely crazy. The team is young and exceptionally talented, however, with that youth will come mistakes.
This team, at times, will look as though the National Championship is just a formality and the turn right around and look as though they have never even seen a basketball before.
That having been established, Bob Huggins is an excellent teacher of the game of basketball, so this team will most definitely improve dramatically as the season progresses, let's just hope that until that happens we haven't eliminated ourselves from post-season contention.
This is going to be a tough year for the Mountaineers. With only 3 players on the roster with any significant playing time, Huggin's squad is, in a word, young. Real young. Literally Justin Beiber young.
I have no doubt they will get better as the season progresses, but the schedule gets harder as they get into the later stages as well. Big East play is going to be a season-long trial by fire for the many many freshman on this team.
Playing for Coach Huggins is also a trial by fire in and of itself. Huggs may need to buy a few additional treadmills. Ultimately, these kids will come together and be a really good team. This year, however, I will be happy just getting an NCAA bid.
Record prediction- 19-12
The Couchers are predicting a bit of a fall from grace for the Mountaineers this season.
Ok, I know I'm the only one.
From just about every season prediction article I've found concerning the Mountaineers comes predictions of doom and gloom and NIT appearances.
I just don't see it. Not yet, anyway.
I realize there are freshmen galore on the floor for the Mountaineers, and there will be some bumps in the road for those freshmen. But compare this team to last season's, which had so many returning players with experience. Isn't it reasonable to expect that a top 10 recruiting class could replace guys like Mazzulla, Thoroughman, and Flowers? Doesn't anyone remember that there were sizable stretches during last season when the Mountaineers demonstrated almost no SKILL and all HEART? When they couldn't throw the basketball in the ocean?
Sure, there will be games when opposing teams press the Mountaineers and too many turnovers happen and they can't recover. There will be times when your head will explode because something as simple as an inbounds play goes horribly awry.
But there's also aspects that these freshmen bring to the court that last year's team simply couldn't, from outside shooting to fast breaks to perimeter defense.
It may be rocky to start, but I'm putting my money on Huggs to straighten it out in time to get this team to the NCAA Tournament just like every other Mountaineer squad he's ever coached.
Big East 7th place finish
NCAA Tournament appearance as an 8-seed
Enjoy the season, everyone.
2011/11/15 3:10 am
'Country Roads' is better than 'Catch the Dub' any day.
The latter song had been the tune of choice for Cincinnati's Bearcats after each of their six straight victories. But West Virginia made sure its more established, though unofficial, anthem was queued up after the Mountaineers blocked their first field goal since 2004 to secure a 24-21 road win Saturday.
The win, West Virginia's first over a ranked team on the road since 2007, greatly muddied the waters in the Big East title race, though the Bearcats (7-2, 3-1 Big East) still remain the team to beat by a half game. Cincy's road is far from smooth, though, especially after the team lost starting quarterback Zach Collaros for an undetermined amount of time with a severely sprained ankle.
The first-place Bearcats have three games remaining, the next two on the road at Rutgers and Syracuse before closing the season at home against Connecticut. Cincinnati owns wins (and thus eventual tiebreakers) over the Cardinals and Panthers and would reach the BCS simply by winning out.
The Mountaineers will need some help to keep these bums from raising this thing again this year. But they have only themselves to blame for being in this position.
The victory moved WVU (7-3, 3-2) back into the coaches' poll at No. 23, and into a four-way tie behind the Bearcats in the conference standings. The Mountaineers have a bye week before playing Pitt at home in the Backyard Brawl and closing the year at South Florida.
Mountaineer fans will have to keep their eyes on the Big East scoreboards over the next couple of weekends to see how this logjam will shake out between the 'Eers, Rutgers, Louisville, Pitt and even fifth-place Connecticut.
WVU has wins over the Scarlet Knights and the Huskies, but last week's loss to U of L could prove even more costly if the Cardinals win out.
Rutgers (7-3, 3-2) has a head-to-head win over Pitt, but losses to Louisville and WVU. The Scarlet Knights still must play host to Cincy and travel to UConn.
The Cardinals (5-5, 3-2) have beaten Rutgers and WVU, but show a loss to Pitt. They close with games at UConn and USF.
The Panthers (5-5, 3-2) hold the tie-breakers over Louisville and UConn, but let one slip away at home against Cincinnati two weeks ago. Pitt is off likewise off until the Nov. 25 Backyard Brawl before closing at home against Syracuse.
And, yes, even the Huskies (4-5, 2-2) have another shot to humiliate the league in a BCS game. UConn lost to WVU and Pitt but could still shake things up at home against Louisville and Rutgers, or in the season finale at Cincy.
In 2010, UConn came away with the BCS berth after a three-way tie at the top of the league standings with West Virginia and Pitt.
In 2004, Pitt claimed the Big East's BCS berth when the league had four teams - Pitt, Boston College, West Virginia and Syracuse - all with 4-2 records.
So given this year's convoluted scenario, WVU needs to win out and needs the Bearcats and Cardinals to lose at least one more time each. The volatile nature of this league and last year's frantic finish to the league race would indicate this situation will likely again go down to the wire.
"We put ourselves in this hole," junior quarterback Geno Smith told the Charleston Gazette in this article, referring to the Big East standings. "We can't make any excuses. But today we learned we can overcome adversity."
That's a lesson WVU will build on in the bye week, as the Mountaineers fought to pull out the win despite another ugly laundry list of mistakes, both of the mental and physical variety.
West Virginia's special teams woes continued with a missed field goal and a blocked kick for the second straight week. Punter Michael Molinari averaged just 37.1 yards on seven kicks, his average actually boosted by a 58-yard kick. He had a 52-yard kick negated by a penalty, only to follow it up with a 38-yarder.
He also botched a chance to pin Cincinnati deep when the Mountaineers punted from the opposing 33, but Molinari boomed it about 5 yards into the end zone for a touchback.
The patchwork defense was working without several contributors, including starting strong safety Terence Garvin and backup cornerback Brantwon Bowser, who were out with head injuries. Brodrick Jenkins played most of the game in place of cornerback Pat Miller, though many posters on the board feel that is no big loss.
Tackling was mediocre at best, and horrid at other times, thanks to arm tackles and several all-together whiffs.
The nearly four hour contest was marred by horrid officiating too, including five lengthy replay sessions - one of which was simply to determine what down it actually was. WVU gave the inept officiating crew plenty of chances to throw the laundry with 14 flags for 95 yards - just two penalties short of the school record.
The offensive line had an especially putrid day, giving up five sacks and making room for just 32 yards rushing on as many carries.
"We didn't play up to our standards," said center Joe Madsen in this article from the Charleston Gazette. "I know Coach [Dana] Holgorsen and we all know it. We really need to step it up. Me, personally, I think I played one of the worst games ever. I just need to get back in there and do what I do best."
The line's shaky play opened the game, giving up an 8-yard sack on the first snap. A delay of game on 4th down backed the Mountaineers up further, and Molinari's 38-yard boot set up Cincy at its own 46.
Isaiah Pead broke through a bevy of half-hearted tackles for a 40-yard score three plays later to put the home team on top 7-0.
WVU responded in kind with the big play, as Smith found Stedman Bailey behind two defenders for a 59-yard hook-up to tie the game.
The back-and-forth fireworks looked like they would continue on the next series. The Bearcats moved easily from their own 20, never even needing a 3rd down until things stalled at the WVU 6. The Mountaineers had Cincy ready to settle for a field goal on 4th down, but an offsides call helped head coach Butch Jones re-think his strategy.
The Bearcats decided to go for it from the 1, but Collaros' keeper was stuffed by Julian Miller and Keith Tandy to turn the ball over.
West Virginia had to dodge a safety by the skin of the o-line's teeth after the play-calling had Smith and the offense in a shotgun formation from their own 1. After two incompletions forced the team to rely on Molinari, the punter responded with a 58-yarder to bail the Gold and Blue out.
WVU took its first lead, 10-7, at the outset of the second quarter on a Bitancurt field goal, keyed on the drive by five completions to Tavon Austin for 72 yards.
The momentum stayed with the Mountaineers on the ensuing series. Collaros looked to evade pressure on 3rd-and-12 from his 15, but Bruce Irvin and Najee Goode tracked him all the way to the goal line.
Irvin stuffed the QB, knocking the ball loose, while Miller recovered for a 17-7 lead. Collaros was knocked out for the remainder of the game, bringing on backup Munchie Legaux, who had thrown just seven passes all season.
That #11 guy for the Mountaineers... he nasty.
The backup threw a wildly off-target interception to Tandy to end his first series, but WVU couldn't do anything with it. The Mountaineers came up empty on two drives into Bearcat territory to end the first half.
Cincy couldn't move to start the 3rd quarter, and a short punt set up WVU at its own 41. The Mountaineers again squandered a promising opportunity with two penalties and a sack stalling the drive before Bitancurt's kick was stuffed.
The Bearcats missed their own kick from 42-yards out on the next drive, wasting a 65-yard breakout from Legaux. But West Virginia was happy to provide another opportunity as Molinari shanked a punt out of bounds for 28 yards.
Cincy took over near midfield and quickly scored in two plays. After a 45-yard pass to Pead, Legaux scored from 7-yards out to make it 17-14.
The Mountaineers continued their generosity when Dustin Garrison fumbled at the opposing 47 to give away another chance.
The Bearcats took full advantage, with the un-heralded backup QB leading a 52-yard drive. Pead capped the 11-play series with a 10-yard run, pushing the Bearcats back in front, 21-14.
West Virginia finally got back on track on its ensuing possession, mounting what would effectively be the game-winning drive.
Smith converted third-and-longs to keep the 74-yard, 12-play strike alive. Shawne Alston, strangely ignored most of the game, finally got his number called, scoring from 1-yard out to put his team ahead to stay.
But that's not to say WVU didn't keep things interesting. The Mountaineer offense failed twice to keep a drive going to kill more clock.
After the offense got the ball back with only 3:40 remaining, WVU failed to gain a first down and keep their possession going. Opting not to try to pin Cincy deep after Molinari's shaky punting, Bitancurt missed a 47-yard field goal, giving the ball back to Cincinnati with 2:01 remaining.
The home team made the most of the final shot. Legaux looked as if he would be the latest QB glorified by the WVU defense, completing passes for 34 and 14 yards to move to the Mountaineer 21.
The drive ran out of gas, though, and Cincinnati seemed set to send the game to overtime with a 31-yard field goal. But that's when Eain Smith broke through the line to provide the Mountaineers' first blocked kick in more than a decade to secure the win.
"This is a classic example of trying to find a way to win," Holgorsen said in this article from the Charleston Daily Mail. "The offense could have done it at the end and didn't. The field goal team could have knocked it through and made it a six-point game and didn't. The defense could have caved in at the end and let them score a touchdown and didn't. Then we block a field goal at the end. We found a way to win."
The Mountaineers pulled out a close one thanks to inspired efforts by Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, and Eain Smith's left hand.
Legaux finished 10 of 21 for 144 yards and ran eight times for 89 yards, falling just short of an impressive comeback. The backup provided an unexpected spark and gave the Cincy offense a look WVU hadn't expected to see.
"We didn't prepare for that at all,'' Tandy said in this Charleston Gazette article. "I mean, Collaros runs, but not like that.''
Smith passed for 372 yards on 29-of-43 passing, while Austin managed nine catches for 126 yards to go with 123 yards in kick returns.
Bailey added six catches for 104 yards, making him just the third player in school history break 1,000 yards on the season. Bailey now has seven 100-yard performances in the past eight games, putting him two behind David Saunders, who holds the school's career record with nine 100-yard games.
“I was really proud how the team came together, played all four quarters, and were excited to play,” Holgorsen told MSNSportsnet.com.
West Virginia has the week off before the showdown with Pitt, which has been announced as a 7pm kickoff on ESPN. It likely won't be lost on the coaches that WVU followed up its last bye week with an embarrassing road loss to Syracuse.
2011/11/07 5:44 pm
Given West Virginia's laundry list of successes on offense Saturday, it makes the team's shorter - but uglier -- list of screw-ups that much more maddening.
On paper, the Mountaineers should have won in a landslide against Louisville, after winning the yardage battle by 182 yards (533 yards vs. 351), gaining 28 first downs and an average of 6.8 yards per play.
But all the positives were bogged down by the negatives for the Gold and Blue, which lost two turnovers, missed one field goal and had another blocked and returned for a touchdown, dropped at least one guaranteed TD reception, continued its horribly inept specials teams play, and made yet another mediocre opposing quarterback look like an All-American. All of that added up to a 31-28 loss, the second such league disappoint in Morgantown this season.
WVU lost to Louisville for just the third time ever, and the first time U of L has won in Morgantown since 1990. The victory also snapped a four-game losing skid in the series for the Cardinals, whose 38 points was 14 points better than any of their previous games this season
West Virginia hadn't lost twice at home in the same season since 2003. The loss dropped WVU (6-3, 2-2 Big East) out of the polls with two conference losses for the fourth straight season. It also took the Mountaineers' destiny out of its own hands in the Big East title race, especially after first-place Cincinnati outlasted Pitt Saturday night to remain the only unbeaten in league play at 3-0.
Don't let Saturday's loss taint the 56th anniversary of the night Doc Brown hit his head on the toilet and invented the flux capacitor.
"I really don't care about yards," head coach Dana Holgorsen told the Charleston Daily Mail in this article. "We had the yard. We had good yards per game. Our third downs were right about 60 percent (8-for-14).
“We moved the ball and got in the red zone and had ourselves in position to be 6-for-6, but we couldn't convert on the two field goals, which is the difference in the game."
West Virginia's defense allowed the Cardinals, who entered the game just 12-for-17 in red zone scores, to go 5-for-5 with four touchdowns. Louisville's usually anemic offense had scored just eight red zone TDs all season, an average of just two per game.
“Words can't explain it,” West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith told the Register-Herald in this article. “It's just a total team loss. We obviously didn't make enough plays on offense to win the game and that's what hurts the most.”
Smith had another impressive day on the stat sheet, compiling his third 400-yard game on 31-of-44 passing. The junior finished with 410 yards and three touchdowns, but his costly fumble in the third quarter killed a WVU drive and led to a Cardinal field goal.
“We're definitely not doing what it takes to win,” Smith said in the previously-cited article.
Stedman Bailey had his sixth 100-yard receiving game, finishing with 8 catches for 108 yards and two scores. The wideout should have had a third TD catch, though, as he dropped a sure score that would have put the Mountaineers ahead early in the third quarter. As a result, WVU had to try for a field goal, which Tyler Bitancurt missed from 32 yards out.
Before the wheels fell off in the second half, things were looking promising for the Mountaineers.
After erasing an early deficit in the second quarter, WVU had just re-taken lead with a sustained drive downfield. The Mountaineers went 65 yards in 13 plays, with Smith spreading the ball to four different receivers. Shawne Alston capped the drive with a 2-yard score, and West Virginia went ahead 21-14.
Things went even further south for the Cardinals on the ensuing series with a QB sack and a delay of game, forcing a punt. The Mountaineers couldn't move either, though, and the first hint of the soon-to-be special teams meltdown showed up.
Punter Mike Molinari, who took over the job simply because Corey Smith couldn't seem to actually kick downfield, shanked an 11-yard kick to put the Cards in business at their own 44.
Louisville quickly took advantage as Bridgewater completed 5-of-6 on the quick strike, closing the drive with a 4-yard TD pass to knot the game at 21-21 at the half.
Despite the setback, WVU again looked to be in control when Najee Goode intercepted a tipped pass on the second play of the third quarter. Goode would have returned the pick to the UL 3-yard line, but a block in the back penalty behind the play forced WVU to set up at the 40.
The Mountaineers couldn't punch it in despite earning a 1st-and-10 at the 18, with two Smith incompletions and a false start drying up the series. Bitancurt was brought on for a 32-yard kick, but he pulled it badly left.
After forcing another punt, the first of two fumbles stung WVU, as freshman Andrew Buie was stripped at his own 15. Though the defense kept the Cards out of paydirt, the visiting team hit a 39-yard field to take a 24-21 lead.
Austin returned the ensuing kick 33 yards to give WVU yet another great opportunity to get ahead on the scoreboard. The drive moved to the opposing 38 before bogging down, where Alston was stopped short on a 4th-and-1 gamble by the coaching staff.
After a Louisville punt, West Virginia got back to business after Smith connected with Bailey for a 46-yard breakaway pass. The Mountaineers again couldn't bring it home, with Smith missing a forced fade route badly on third down to again bring on Bitancurt from 23 yards out.
(EDITOR'S NOTE- This might've been one of the worst play calls in recent memory. You throw 2 yard fades on first down. It's a low-percentage pass, especially when Geno's had trouble with it all season.)
That's when UL cornerback Adrian Bushell broke in nearly untouched to stuff the kick, and Andrew Johnson picked up the pigskin and took it all the way home for a 31-21 lead.
Just going out on a limb here, but I'm going to say it's bad when there's a picture of your holder chasing another guy with the ball.
(AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
"It's a 10-point swing,'' Holgorsen said in this article from the Charleston Gazette. "It's not hard to look at the final score and figure out what a 10-point swing means.''
Smith was sacked and fumbled at the UL 28 at the outset of the 4th quarter to kill a promising WVU drive. The Mountaineers held the Cards on their following drive, but it took nearly 3 minutes off the clock to get the ball back.
West Virginia once again looked to rally, moving 96 yards in 8 plays. Ivan McCartney's 46-yard reception keyed the strike, and Alston's second TD rush from 7 yards out cut the UL lead to 31-28.
But the Cardinals were able to close out the game thanks to 66-yard drive in which UL converted two 3rd downs and one 4th-and-1 to keep the clock rolling. The 13-play drive killed 7 minutes and 3 seconds and ended with Dominque Brown's 3-yard score to make it 38-28.
Smith engineered a lightning-quick drive downfield, completing five straight passes and rushing 18 yards to reach the Cards' red zone. He found Bailey for the second time from 1 yard out to bring WVU within three at 38-35, but the Mountaineers couldn't recover the onside kick to keep the last-ditch rally alive.
Not sure why you'd want to, but here's the "highlights" from Saturday's game.
“Not a very hard one to figure out,” Holgorsen said in the previously-cited article. “You lose the turnover battle, you go 0-2 on field goals, that gets you beat.”
The Mountaineers will need to win out in their final three games against Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida and will still need some help to have a shot at the league title and the accompanying BCS slot.
WVU's matchup with the Bearcats has been set for an ABC telecast with a Noon kick off on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
2011/11/03 2:44 pm
West Virginia won its first head-to-head battle with Louisville in a Big (12) way, but the fallout from that decision is threatening to overshadow Saturday's game against the Cardinals actually ON the field.
With the Big 12 choosing WVU over the Cardinals as the league's 10th (or possibly 11th member, should Missouri continue to drag its heels about a move to the SEC), it should add some extra juice to what is already an interesting matchup that will help shape a potentially wide-open Big East title race.
The Mountaineers (6-2, 2-1 Big East) enter on a high note after making it 17 straight against Rutgers last weekend, 31-21. WVU rode a tremendous second half to drop Scarlet Knight head coach Greg Schiano to 0-10 against his Blue and Gold foes.
The game may also prove to be one of several Big East swan songs for West Virginia, who on Monday announced a lawsuit against the Big East to maneuver out of the required 27-month Big East lame duck period to join the Big 12 for the upcoming 2012 season.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto, the much-maligned league figure-head who is now fighting for both his conference's very survival and probably his job - has fired back, saying he was “stunned” by WVU's tactics and fully intends to hold the school to the conference's 2-year notice period for any school which wishes to leave the league.
WVU's future might be shaped more by lawyers at this point than on-field play.
In a press release from the league (which can be found in many sources, including this one), Marinatto said, “In light of the lawsuit filed by West Virginia [Monday] the presidents also discussed and confirmed our continuing commitment to enforce the conference's 27-month notification period for schools choosing to leave.
“The conference believes these claims to be wholly without merit and will explore all its legal options to protect its interests and to ensure that West Virginia lives up to its obligations."
By filing suit, WVU clearly is gambling that the Big East will be willing to settle the lawsuit instead of going to trial. A lot is riding on the outcome, as the Big 12 clearly needs West Virginia to join in time for next season. The league's new TV contract requires 10 football-playing members to be valid, and with Missouri presumably on the way out for 2012, the league will also have a big headache on its hands filling holes in its members' schedules at this late time.
The Big East, meanwhile, is reportedly ready to add Boise State, Navy, Air Force, SMU, UCF and Houston, but is desperate to keep the national appeal of WVU, Syracuse and Pitt for as along as possible to pad the rankings used to determine automatic qualifying status for future BCS consideration.
The league is guaranteed a spot in the BCS only through 2013 and needs whatever prestige it can muster, even if it's from a member with one foot out the door.
Members of both leagues will feel the repercussions since any way you slice it, somebody's schedule is going to look radically different than it does right now. That's what makes this drama so intriguing to me. Seeing either the Big 12 or Big East completely overhaul their whole makeup in less than 8 months should be a sight to see.
Drama has been no stranger to Morgantown the last few years. From the Rich Rodriguez departure and subsequent lawsuit (a case in which WVU found it preferable to make someone honor a contract), to the Bill Stewart soap opera and his inevitable firing, and even new head coach Dana Holgorsen's removal from a casino in Charleston. This lawsuit is just another log on the fire.
Almost certainly, the critics will have the Gold and Blue in their crosshairs on this one, as West Virginia is looking like the a-hole in this situation. The school is ditching the Big East and trying to get out of the rules that former president David Hardesty helped write. Also watching the outcome closely will be Pitt and Syracuse, who plan to defect to the ACC after their waiting period is up. The ACC has apparently agreed to abide by the Big East's exit rules, which may hamstring WVU's case further.
Throwing a wrench in WVU's exit strategy would make Pitt extremely happy.
The situation is different for the ACC, though, as they need time to prepare for a 14-team conference and probably don't mind the extra time to prepare. The Big 12 is over a barrel and has to be pushing WVU to do whatever it takes behind the scenes. The league pretty much said as much during Tuesday's press conference in Morgantown.
When asked if WVU was invited contingent on the school playing a 2012 conference schedule, interim league commish Chuck Neinas said simply, “Yes, sir.”
Neinas continued, telling the Charleston Gazette in this article, "We needed a 10th member for next season to fulfill our TV commitments. There's an inventory that goes with the contract. We have to be able to [fulfill] that."
The Big 12 backed off that some Wednesday, as league spokesman Bob Burda released a statement saying the Mountaineers' membership "is not contingent upon (them) joining the Conference for the 2012-13 season." (As reported here, among other outlets.) No further explanation was offered, but this move smacks of public relations. The Big 12 would rather WVU be the guy wearing the black hat and twisting his mustache while they sit back and say, “Hey, we didn't make 'em do this.”
The silver lining in this storm cloud is that West Virginia would need to buy out of one of its games scheduled for next season if it does take on a Big 12 slate of 9 conference games. WVU's non-conference schedule includes Marshall, Maryland, Florida State and a neutral site date with James Madison at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.
If looked at logically, it's clear the Mountaineers won't give up the FSU game and it's reported $800,000 buyout, and reports are that the buyout is too high to consider dumping the JMU game since such a large venue has been procured. That leaves Maryland, a member of a BCS conference and owner of a $500,000 buyout, and Marshall, whom WVU didn't want to play in the first place and a tiny $150,000 buyout since WVU is the home team and doing the contract breaching.
(Anybody up for an early end to the Coal Bowl? Show of hands? I thought so.)
The Backyard Brawl looks like it will take a hiatus at the minimum. It seems nearly impossible for all the stars to align to allow WVU and Pitt to find a mutual date that allows both to juggle their potential new conference schedules and still play. Even if Pitt stays in the Big East, WVU would then need to buy out two games to make it work.
All of this craziness will be front and center during Saturday's game, which will set up a clear second place team behind Cincinnati in the league race.
Louisville also enters the game on a high note, riding a two-game winning streak after knocking off Rutgers and Syracuse. The Cardinals dominated the Orange in their most recent win, holding them to 246 yards of offense. For those of you suffering PTSD from WVU's own game with Syracuse, as a reminder, West Virginia gave up 443 yards in a blowout loss to the Orange.
All told, the Cards' defense is allowing just 16.3 points per game and leads the Big East in total defense. That total ranks U of L's defense 11th nationally, but it will be sorely challenged by a WVU offense which leads the league in total offense.
Quarterback Geno Smith leads the way for the Mountaineers, coming off a 20-of-31 passing effort and two scores against Rutgers, which tied the junior with Rasheed Marshall for third on the school's all-time list with 45 passing touchdowns.
Smith also passed current WVU athletic director Oliver Luck for fourth on the all-time passing chart with 5,787 yards.
The Mountaineer offense ranks 15th in scoring nationally with an average of more than 38 points per game, while the unit is 13th in total offense with an average of 482.1 yards.
The WVU defense will try to build on its dominant second half performance against the Scarlet Knights against a weaker Louisville offense which has managed just 17.6 points on average, ranking them 113th in the country. The Cards switched offensive coordinators last month to try to increase their average of 329.4 yards of total offense.
Though the Mountaineers had another sluggish start against Rutgers, it could certainly be explained by white-out conditions. Once the field cleared up, so did the Mountaineers
Louisville starts freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who will look to build off a solid effort against the Orange completing 17 of 24 for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
A win is critical for WVU as the top four teams in the league play this weekend. The second-place Mountaineers and third-place Cardinals play Saturday in Morgantown, while first-place Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0) is at Pitt (4-4, 2-1) that evening.
West Virgina's game kicks Saturday at Noon and can be seen on the Big East Network and ESPN3.com.