Young Team Growing Up Fast
What’s not to like about one of the youngest teams in America being right in the thick of things in one of the best leagues in America?
Of course I’m taking about West Virginia, which at times plays as many as four freshmen on the floor at the same time. I believe this is a team that enjoys playing together and it’s easy to see that by the way they encourage each other in their rotations.
For example, when Gary Browne comes off the bench he’s really supporting what Jabarie Hinds is doing out there. I think the other thing that has been big with this team is seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant and the way they are leading. Go back to the Kent State game and recall how terrible that game was, and then look ahead at what was facing West Virginia with another very difficult out-of-conference schedule and your saying, are we going to get six wins out of this? Well, the Mountaineers ended up getting 10.
I think one of the reasons is when the season started Bob Huggins was doing everything. From the sidelines he was the leader on the floor and he had to make every adjustment that had to be made because there were some players out there who just didn’t have it together. Now, at this stage of the season, Huggs is getting help with the guys he’s putting out on the floor.
I do like the way this team is playing right now and those young kids - Gary Browne, Aaron Brown and Jabarie Hinds - are really something. I think one thing that Huggs has found out is when he does size down he causes some problems for teams and Saturday, West Virginia’s small lineup was able match the small lineup of Cincinnati – which came into the Coliseum as one of the hottest teams in the Big East.
Another impressive aspect of this young team has been its role play and freshman forward Kevin Noreen is a perfect example of that. We were driving back from Charleston after the Marshall game and I had a chance to study the stat sheet and I was really shocked that in 29 minutes for Kevin he had only six points and no assists, but I can tell you he was responsible for about 20 points in that game with his passing, screening and positioning on the floor.
What Kevin is is he’s pesky. He really frustrates good, athletic big guys because he’s fundamentally sound. He is also adept at getting a hand on a ball he can’t grab and tipping it to a teammate. Plus, he’s a very, very good entry passer from the high post. If he can’t shove it into the low post to Kevin Jones at an excellent spot then the ball is out and it gets reversed right away. The ball is going through him and these players know it. They use him. They like his screening because they know if they don’t have a shot and they throw it to him, he’s going to find the shooters. Kevin Noreen is playing a big role on this team and the stat sheet doesn’t always show it. And, when Kevin starts hitting that mid-range shot – because he can shoot it and he works really hard at it – then the Mountaineers are really going to have something there.
Of course the year Kevin Jones is having will go down as one of the great seasons in West Virginia University annals, and he has a chance of being one of three guys in Big East Conference history to lead the league in scoring and rebounding.
What I enjoy the most about watching Kevin play is how much he respects the game. When you see players who give the game all it has and at the same time don’t try to abuse it – don’t try and do things you can’t do – it’s just a joy to watch. He starts out games making sure all of his teammates are involved and I am really impressed with his outside shooting, not just 3s, I’m talking facing the basket and those shots he’s making in the short corner.
To me, he’s like Albert Pujols. All you have to do is write Pujols’ name into the lineup and let him go and he’s going to be 2 for 4. You put Kevin Jones in the lineup and he’s going to be 20 and 10. That’s just the way it is, and to have that is just invaluable.
Now, where can this team go? I think what has to happen is West Virginia has to keep winning its remaining games at home. There are winnable games coming up down the road and a 20-win regular season right now is looking very favorable, and who knows, perhaps even much more than that.