Team preview: West Virginia
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
It has happened before. At Canisius and Richmond. And now at West Virginia. The old hands are gone, and it's up to the new kids. They'll have some help, of course. But it's not going to be easy.
But it will be easier. When John Beilein showed up in Morgantown four years ago, he had no one to lead the way. There was nobody who knew the offense or understood the patterns. Every day was a new experience. And when you're running a system that looks like nothing else in college basketball, new can get old pretty fast.
"Four years ago, we threw the freshmen in and said, 'Go,' " Beilein said. "We had no foundation, and every drill had to be taught to everybody. Now, we have six guys we can send out onto the court and say, 'This is how you do it.' "
Now, it's not like those six are All-Big East types who not only know the drills but can excel at them. Those people are gone. Super-sized jump shooter Kevin Pittsnogle, the West Virginia folk hero who made the Mountaineers so tough to handle with his size and stroke, is off to the NBA. Gone, too, are wing-gunners Mike Gansey, Johannes Herber and Patrick Beilein, each a perfect part of the four-out, one-in (and sometimes five-out, no-in) WVU attack.
It's time to re-tool, and even if everybody -- or mostly everybody -- knows the dance steps, it's going to be pretty hard to get the Mountaineers moving to the same beat. Not that there aren't quality replacement parts in the garage. Beilein calls this team "certainly the most athletic group we've had." But he also cautions that "whether that turns into wins, we'll see."
Beilein and his staff have to see how versatile the team is. They need to find out whether they can make the reads necessary to make the offense torment enemies.
"There is a lot of basketball IQ involved," Beilein said.
What Beilein has done in Morgantown is certainly worthy of some Mensa consideration itself. The quintessential ladder-climber, he succeeded at Canisius and Richmond before stepping into the big-league batter's box. At the time, he wasn't some hot, young coach (although there are those who think the late 40s is plenty young, thank you very much), rather a seasoned pro with some good ideas. He turned a solid program into a big winner, surprising everybody in '05 with a run to the Elite Eight and then refusing to buckle under some serious expectations last season by leading WVU to its first ever repeat Sweet 16 showing.