CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I placed a call to WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins, I knew what I was facing.The man needs one win to tie Ray Meyer for 18th place on the all-time NCAA Division I coaching list. He has 723 victories. He's the third-winningest active coach behind Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim.Yet I've observed recent developments, which have all but shelved big men Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton. I'm familiar with most of the Mountaineer roster - with the exceptions of Remi Dibo, Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins.And I had but one question for the coach: How are you going to make this work?
Quite frankly, I don't see how the Mountaineers can be successful this season. And others agree. In the Big 12 preseason media poll, WVU was picked to finish seventh. In the preseason Athlon magazine, the Mountaineers were picked to finish ninth.Here's the kicker: Athlon's editors made their picks before knowing the fates of Macon and Holton.Huggins, though, is a masterful coach. There's no denying that. He's a future Hall-of-Fame guy. And, with the exception of last season's 13-19 hot mess, he's earned every stripe. His first five WVU teams went to the NCAA tournament, including the 2010 Final Four unit. One has to give this team a chance, if for no other reason than Huggins.Yet I had to ask. How can it win?"We're all right," he replied. "Teams don't play more than nine [players] anyway. We'll get there."[Player losses] happen all the time. Sometimes I think we live in a vacuum here. Look at Duke; look at other teams. Everybody plays with nine guys. You have injuries. You have transfers that don't work out. I mean, how am I going to know if a guy is going to pass a test?"
Huggins has a point. At times here we tend to focus solely on the Mountaineers or Marshall's Thundering Herd. On Thursday, though, I clicked to Sports Illustrated's Internet site, specifically the men's basketball page. Eight of the 14 stories listed centered on suspensions, injuries and transfers. "Texas A&M guard [J-Mychal] Reese suspended indefinitely." "Mitch McGary's status still uncertain for Michigan." "Transfer guard [Joseph] Young cleared to play for Oregon." You get the idea."[Being able to sign] 13 scholarships," Huggins said, "is a lot different than 15."But back to WVU. The Mountaineers certainly have promise in the backcourt via sophomore guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. More than likely, Huggins will go with returning junior Juwan Staten at the point.What's scary, though, a day after Halloween, is the status of the Mountaineers' inside game. Holton was expected to be both the leading rebounder and scorer. The sculpted Macon was expected to provide a rugged, athletic presence inside.If both of those guys are out, the most daunting inside figure appears to be 6-10, 255-pound Kevin Noreen. And although an intelligent hard worker, Noreen isn't very daunting.
"We have five [frontcourt players]," Huggins countered. "We have Kevin, Devin, Nate [Adrian], Watkins and Dibo."
Dibo is the junior college transfer once offered a scholarship by Kentucky coach John Calipari. He should provide scoring when he returns from light knee surgery. But he's a slim 6-foot-9 figure.Watkins, a 6-9, 225-pound freshman, was expected to be redshirted this season. According to Huggins, though, "he's going to play. He's gotten a lot better."Adrian, the 6-8 freshman from Morgantown High (who is recovering from a twisted ankle), is said to have had a terrific off-season. Those who watched him in Charleston at the last state high school tournament, however, will tell you he needed one. And at 220 pounds, he's not an inside force."He's a pick-and-pop [power forward]," Huggins said, "but he's a [power forward]. I hope eventually he can go to the perimeter and play the [small forward]."Then there's Williams, the gem of the last recruiting class. He's expected to play around the rim and be able to step out and hit mid-range jumpers.
"He's played well," Huggins said. "He still has a lot to learn, but he's played well."The thing about all of them is, they're coachable - and they're trying."When the season begins, there's little doubt that Harris, Henderson and Staten will start. Huggins said the other two starters will probably come from the trio of Williams, Adrian and Noreen.But how will he coach this bunch?"It's different every year," Huggins said. "You have to accentuate the positives."As WVU heads into the season, though, the most conspicuous positive appears to be the man in charge.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.