As a Big East fanatic, I hate that the West Virginia Mountaineers made the move to the Big XII Conference. It makes zero sense for the basketball program which has no even semi-rivals in its new league. However, that is the ever evolving landscape of conference realignment. The Mountaineers have some major shoes to fill In their inaugural season in the Big XII if they hope to keep their run recent of success going.
West Virginia relied heavily on the senior duo of Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant to lead the way last season. That pair averaged more than half of the Moutaineers' offensive output, so replacing them becomes a huge task for Bob Huggins, who will rely on a pair of transfers to fill the void.
6-10 big-man Aaric Murray becomes eligible after sitting out last season. He led La Salle in scoring (15.2), rebounding (7.7), and blocked shots (2.3) during his sophomore campaign and is a potential first-round pick for the NBA Draft. Combine him with returning center Deniz Kilicli, and West Virginia has a solid one-two combo inside that brings a ton of physicality to the paint. Murray also has nice range on his jump shot that should give the Moutaineers a high-low option with their bigs.
There is quality depth off the bench with Kevin Noreen, Keaton Miles. and Dominic Rutledge, who all played reserve roles a year ago. Offense is not the forte of that trio though since they combined to average more rebounds than points. The late addition of Ukrainian Volodymyr Gerun (who sounds like a Lord of the Rings character) adds some offensive ability to the front line, but it's uncertain as to how much of an immediate impact he can make this year.
Huggins primarily utilized a three guard lineup in 2011 and that should be case once again this year with returning starters Jabarie Hinds and Garry Browne, and the addition of Dayton transfer Juwan Staten. All three players are capable of handling the point guard responsibilities, but none of them are great outside shooters. It would also give West Virginia a very small backcourt since none of them are taller than 6-1. Staten is most likely of the three to emerge as the Bryant-type scoring option.
Boston College transfer and graduate student Matt Humphrey will play a major role this season as well. He is known for his three-point shooting, and at 6-5, could find his way into the starting five to add more size and ability to stretch defenses. The progress of sophomore wing Aaron Brown will also be advantageous for the Mountaineers since he is not only a capable outside shooter, but also adds some length and athleticism on the wing. Freshman Terry Henderson and Eron Harris provide even more options in the backcourt.
Huggins' teams have a tendency of finishing higher than they are predicted to do in the preseason. It will take a collective effort to replace the scoring of Jones and Bryant but I certainly would not rule out West Virtinia pulling it together and returning to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year.
Player to Watch: Aaric Murray, PF/C
Murray has a chance to be one of biggest impact transfers in all of college basketball. The knock on him in the past is that he spends too much time on the perimeter rather than establishing himself on the block. I'm guessing Huggins won't allow that to happen and when paired with Kilicli, the Mountaineers will have one of the most physical frontcourts in the nation.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/12 at Gonazga
11/22 vs. Marist (Old Spice Classic)
11/23 vs. Vanderbilt/Davidson (Old Spice Classic)
11/25 vs. Gonzaga/Clemson/Oklahoma/UTEP (Old Spice Classic)