Bulls Recon: The Smoking Musket Talks West Virginia Basketball

Welcome to our last regular season edition of Bulls Recon! Today we have Country Roads from our West Virginia site The Smoking Musket to talk some Mountaineer basketball. In this edition, we talk Kevin Jones, West Virginia's recent slump, and of course Big East XII expansion.

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1. The Mountaineers have gone from a Top 6 seed to possibly being knocked out of the tournament. What has gone wrong?
What hasn't gone wrong? I think the slump is mostly attributable to four things: playing a more difficult schedule and dropping close games to good teams (Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Marquette), lack of development among newcomers other than Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds (we know freshmen are going to be inconsistent...we just hope they show improvement throughout the year, and that hasn't happened), injuries to Kevin Noreen and Pat Forsythe (depleting depth across the front line and forcing Deniz Kilicli to play more and more timid than usual for fear of getting into foul trouble), and Truck Bryant absolutely disappearing for about a month (which I'll discuss below).


2. Kevin Jones is easily the best player on the Mountaineers. What makes him so dangerous in Coach Huggins' system?
I don't think it's any real secret---Kevin plays hard and smart. He's not the most physically gifted guy on the court, but he has a great knack for rebounding (partially because he works so hard at it and partially because he's smart enough to anticipate where the ball is most likely to come off the rim), he plays good defense, he has decent range to about 15 feet, and he doesn't try to do more than he's capable of. Playing for Huggins is simple: play hard, play smart, and don't try to do more than you're capable of. KJ epitomizes that.


3. Truck Bryant has certainly had his up and down moments with the Mountaineers. How will you remember his time in Morgantown a few years from now?
That's a great question. I was actually planning to do a post about this at the end of the season. If you look at the stats, you get a pretty rosy picture of Truck's career: 3 NCAA tournament appearances (including the Final Four in 2010 and potentially another NCAA berth this year), a Big East Tournament title, and his name all over the WVU career record book. However, I think most WVU fans would tell you they're disappointed with his time here. He's always been very inconsistent, often following up great games with real head-scratchers, but maybe that's just the nature of being a shooter. He doesn't seem to have improved significantly from his freshman year (as evidenced by his recent slump that has coincided with the team's skid), although he may just be putting undue pressure on himself as one of three upperclassmen. The team has enjoyed unprecedented success during his time here (although he was hurt for WVU's regional appearance during the 2010 run to the Final Four), but it's hard to say how much he contributed to that success given that he has been surrounded by guys like Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, and John Flowers who have stood out more than Truck has. By all accounts, Truck is a good kid, and I think after some time folks will think of him as a contributing factor, but not a star, during a string of great WVU teams.

4. Go ahead and talk about moving to the Big XII and how you'll enjoy those trips to Ames, Iowa and Manhattan, Kansas.
It's hard not to be excited about leaving the Big East, at least in terms of competition and name brand cache'. I really can't say too much about the competition given how USF has given WVU fits the last several years, but from a fan's perspective, it will be nice to have the media not bash your conference at every opportunity. Plus, it will be fun to have teams like Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU coming to Morgantown on a regular basis. Fans will be much more excited to see those teams than anyone in the reconstituted Big East---that's not intended as a knock on anyone, that's just the perception=reality thing at work. I would be lying if I said I'm not going to miss playing Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers every year---we had developed some history with them and they were pretty easy trips for most fans. The rest of the Big East hasn't even been in the same conference as WVU for long enough to develop many feelings toward losing them on the schedule. I'll definitely miss the basketball tournament in NYC, but even that won't be the same without Pitt and Syracuse. Suffice to say, things look much different now than in 1995 when WVU became a full member of the Big East. Given the lay of the land right now, WVU would be foolish not to have left.
In terms of trips to Ames and Manhattan (and Austin, Norman, Stillwater, Lawrence, Lubbock, Ft. Worth, and Waco)...they won't be as easy to get to, but then again neither were Tampa or Storrs. I have been to every Big East football stadium except USF, and I can way with a high degree of confidence that most Big XII venues are going to blow away anything the Big East has to offer. Knock Ames all you want, but from talking with the guys at Wide Right and Natty Light (the Iowa State blog), Ames knows how to party, and I'm probably looking forward to making that trip more than anyone other than Texas. Let's face it, the current Big East schools just don't stack up for football game day experiences. And the basketball won't exactly be terrible either. Bottom line---things are going to be different, and while I would rather be in the SEC or ACC, I'm looking forward to the opponents on this year's football schedule more than any other that I can remember.

5. Any predictions for Saturday's game?
I don't have a good feeling about this one. USF is playing really well right now, they're a bad matchup for WVU given the way they play defense and hustle, and they're hungry. Oh, and it's senior day. Unless Truck Bryant can figure out a way to keep up the hot shooting he had on display against DePaul (not holding my breath), I don't have a lot of confidence in WVU coming out with a win. I hope I'm wrong, and I hope that even if WVU does lose that we have done enough to earn an NCAA at-large selection, but I see this in the neighborhood of 63-58 USF.

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Thanks again to Country Roads for helping us out today. Make sure you visit The Smoking Musket for my answers to his questions later on in the day.
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