As the Mountaineers prepare to enter Big East play, it's time to hand out midterm grades. John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman lead the class.
Grades just came out at WVU, so as the Mountaineers enter into Big East Conference play next week, it's time to hand out midterm grades. At 8-2, the West Virginia Mountaineers have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.
Truck Bryant: B- . Two years ago, as a freshman, I took one look at Truck's scoring abilities and said, "This kid will go down as one of the best point guards in school history. Easily." Two seasons later Truck has shown little improvement and still makes the boneheaded plays that get him sent to Huggins' doghouse for entire halves. You just can't have that out of an upperclassman.
Casey Mitchell: C. A "C" is an average grade, and right now, Mitchell's an average player. He put together four straight A-plus games that made him look like this team's go-to scorer. Then he promptly disappeared. He bounced back against Cleveland State, but has trouble creating his own shot against good defenders. Currently, this West Virginia team is desperate for scoring and Mitchell should get more minutes, but his inability (or lack of desire) to play defense has given him a seat next to Billy Hahn for large stretches of the last few games.
John Flowers: A+. Flowers is easily the most consistent player on the Mountaineers right now. He's not a prolific scorer, but you can pencil him in for ten. He's not the biggest player but his leaping ability makes him a force on the boards. He's a lock down defender who isn't afraid to hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball and has been a prolific shot-blocker all season. Simply put, right now, Flowers is the glue that's holding this team together.
Kevin Jones: B. Jones was expected to be this season's team leader. Always the most underrated of Mountaineers, Jones has struggled with his lead role this season. Admittedly, he's been banged up and isn't moving comfortably to get off his shot. Luckily, his second-half explosion against Cleveland State demonstrated he still has the ability to get hot, and he is ready to be a vocal on-court leader.
Deniz Kilicli: Incomplete. Ahhhh.... the dreaded incomplete. The Turk is obviously still a work in progress and has a long way to go. That said, an incomplete can be replaced with any grade once the work has been completed. In this case, for the Turk to have a successful season he needs to fix his defensive deficiencies and be more decisive. If he improves on those two facets of his game, he could finish at the top of the class. If he doesn't, it's going to be more summer school with Huggs.
Joe Mazzulla: A. The darling of the Kentucky upset, Mazzulla continues to do what he has always done: provide a defensive spark off the bench. Along Thoroughman and Flowers, Mazzulla is part of a trio of players whose hustle can never be questioned. While not the scorer that Bryant is, when Mazzulla's on the court, Bob Huggins' motion offense appears to have some actual, you know, motion. His heady play on both ends of the court has meant that when the going gets tough, this team goes with Mazzulla instead of Bryant.
Cam Thoroughman: A+. Cam pulls down one of two A+ grades on this team. Cam has always been a "glue guy," a hustle player who excels in doing all the dirty work asked of him. Setting brutal picks, taking liberal hacks at the opponent's big men, and generally playing above his skill level is a typical day at work for Cam. In the last two outings he's seen his playing time increase dramatically, and rightfully so. The biggest secret in Mountaineer sports right now is that this backup forward is this team's best passer, tallying 12 assists in the last two games.
Danny Jennings: D. "D" is for Danny, and that's the way this kid has played this season. As a freshman, Jennings arrived on campus as WVU's answer to DeJuan Blair, a thought that seems ridiculous at this point. Jennings has showed flashes, grabbing a few impressive rebounds and slamming down a couple of big dunks. When he's not doing that, he seems to be sulking on the bench. Suspended along with former AAU teammate Truck Bryant for the VMI game, Jennings also was missing for the Cleveland State game. Though not officially suspended, one can sense that Jennings tops Huggins' list of players who need an attitude adjustment.
Jonnie West: A-. I'll admit, I never thought Jonnie West would be a contributing member of this team, despite returning for his senior season (in lieu of grad school, not the NBA). That said, there have been moments this season when Huggs has needed to reach deep into the guard rotation and West has provided quality minutes. A dead-eye shooter, Jonnie lacks a lot of other on-court skills, but makes up for it by burying any open three he can get his hands on.
Dalton Pepper: C. Pepper was expected to compete for serious minutes to back up at shooting guard. Instead, he has languished on the bench lately despite Casey Mitchell disappearing as well. Every time Jonnie West gets in the basketball game, it's because Pep is in the doghouse along with Mitchell. A team desperate for scorers could use the services of a big, physical guard like Pepper.
Kevin Noreen: B+. This kid has played admirably in every game he's been in this season, which is only six. In all of his combined action, he totals a mere 39 minutes. That's the near-equivalent of one full game of action, but in his time he has scored 18 points, grabbed 12 boards and dished out four assists. Obviously, the kid is still raw and won't be putting up those kinds of numbers in one game anytime soon, but you have to think he's got great things ahead of him.
Craig Carey / Kenny Ross / Jake Ferguson: Pass. When you're an end of the bench walk-on, it's a pass/fail course with the only criteria being whether or not you see the court. These three have contributed a total of twelve minutes this season, totaling two rebounds and two missed shots. They'll take it.