Random thoughts while wondering why did Kentucky Fried Chicken use the song "Sweet Home, Alabama" in some of its commercials?
BASKETBALL COMES INTO FOCUS
SPEAKING OF COMMERCIALS, allow us to borrow a time-honored ad phrase in describing the WVU men's basketball team:
New and improved.
Wednesday's 78-62 win over Marshall at the Charleston Civic Center gives the Mountaineers a 14-5 season record.
Unless things go terribly wrong the rest of the way, WVU seems destined for a solid seed in March's NCAA tournament.
This basketball season has been a gift that we didn't expect, but gladly will accept.
WE HAVE TO BE HONEST in saying that when
the Mountaineers lost a home exhibition game to Northern Kentucky in
November, there were some doubts around here about how good the
basketball team was going to be this year.
WVU was hit hard by graduation last season and had a raft of inexperience heading into this season.
Head coach Bob Huggins had eight true freshmen
(guards Aaron Brown, Gary Browne, Aric Dickerson, Jabarie Hinds and Paul
Williamson, forwards Keaton Miles and Tommie McCune and center Pat
Forsythe) and a redshirt freshman (Kevin Noreen) on the roster.
Add to that a junior college transfer (forward Dominique Rutledge) with no previous Division-1 college basketball experience.
THAT LEFT A BURDEN on the team's three
returning veterans -- senior forward Kevin Jones, senior guard Darryl
"Truck" Bryant and junior forward/center Deniz Kilicli -- to carry the
They have done so and then some so far this season.
It especially goes for Jones, an All-Big East
first team preseason selection who is outpacing that prediction by
having an All-American year.
THE 6-8 JONES HAS BEEN remarkably
consistent to this point, collecting a Big East-leading of 20.4 points
and 11.4 rebounds a game, making him the only player in the D-1 in the
country to average double figures in both categories.
Jones this week was announced as one of the
Midseason Top 25 players listed as contenders for the prestigious John
R. Wooden Award, given annually by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
He is turning in one of the best individual seasons a Mountaineer player has had in quite a while.
THE LABEL CAN BE OVERDONE, but in Jones' case, it's true that he really is a team leader who leads by example.
Nobody on the WVU team plays harder.
A good example was the Marshall game, in which WVU sputtered its way to a 30-30 halftime tie with Gang Green.
In the second half, the ardent Jones took over the game for WVU.
JONES WAS THE DRIVING FORCE in WVU's
second-half rebounding dominance and he hit several key shots inside and
out in a 42-25 game-closing run that turned a one-point
early-second-half deficit into a 16-point victory over the 13-5
Jones finished with 25 points, 18 in the second half, and had seven rebounds and three assists.
He hit two well-timed three-point shots late in the second half that thwarted the possibility of a Marshall comeback.
Oh, and by the way, he played 40 minutes -- as in every second of the game.
BRYANT ALSO HAS STEPPED UP this season, averaging 18 points a game primarily playing the two-guard position following three seasons as a point guard.
He leads the Big East right now in scoring average during conference games (20.8).
As Bryant goes this year, so have gone the Mountaineers.
He has averaged 20.2 points and made 44.5 percent of his shots in WVU's 14 wins.
In its five losses, Bryant has averaged 12 points and shot 25.3 percent.
THIS IS NOT TO DISS on my man Truck, though. WVU would not be in the position it's in without Bryant complementing Jones's stellar year.
On Wednesday, Bryant did have a relatively poor
shooting night, going 7-of-20 from the field, 2-of-8 from behind the
One of the two, however, was a big three-pointer
in the waning seconds of the first half to tie the score at 30-30 and
give the Mountaineers momentum going into the second half.
He scored 22 points despite some shooting woes
and played a fine game as a defender (seven rebounds and a steal) and
ball-handler, committing just one turnover during 36 minutes of action.
Of the 200 minutes WVU players collectively played against Marshall, Bryant and Jones consumed 76 of them.
Bryant has been an overall stalwart this season, one deserving of high mention on All-Big East teams.
THAT BRINGS US TO KILICLI, who -- much like in his first two years -- has been plagued by foul trouble this year.
When he has played, he has been a force.
To compare him percentage-wise with where he was two years ago -- well, there is no comparison.
What percentage number do we need to illustrate that he is a whole lot better?
The ambidextrous Turk -- who has a soft shooting
touch with either hand and surprising agility for a man 6-9 and 260
pounds, to go along with deft passing ability -- has become hard to
HE IS SCORING AT AN 11-point-a-game clip
and grabbing 5.4 rebounds a game in often-truncated minutes shortened by
such events as him getting his second foul with significant time left
in the first half.
That is, when he's not getting his third foul
early in second half or fourth foul around the midway mark of the second
half, all of the circumstances relegating him to stretches on the
As WVU faces a tough stretch of games in the next
couple of weeks, it would help if Kilicli would cut out some of the
ticky-tack fouls he commits and allows himself and his team more
valuable time on the floor.
AN UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE of Kilicli's time on the bench has been the extra time it has given to forward Noreen, one of the above-mentioned freshmen.
The 6-10, 245-pound Noreen has come on strong of late as Kilicli's backup.
Noreen -- a Minneapolis native who is the
all-time leading scorer in Minnesota high school history with a
staggering 4,086 career points -- is taking on an even bigger fill-in
role since another freshman big man, 6-11, 240-pound Forsythe, is
missing the remainder of the season with injuries.
In a season-high 29 minutes of play necessitated
by Kilicli sitting out with an ankle injury, Noreen scored six points,
collected five rebounds and was charged with just two fouls while
helping keep big men Dennis Tinnon and Robert Goff of Marshall -- a team
that was one of the nation's leaders in rebound margin going into the
contest -- from dominating the rebound statistics as they have much of
SPEAKING OF FRESHMEN, we have been
thrilled with the development of new guards Gary Browne and Jabarie
Hinds, who are showing poise beyond their years.
Browne and Hinds put in 34 and 29 minutes,
respectively, in the Marshall game, each scoring 10 points and hauling
in five rebounds as they rotated at the point and two-guard and
sometimes were part of a three-guard lineup with Bryant.
Other new players of note have been Aaron Brown,
Rutledge and yearlong starter Miles, a tough defender who seems to be
finding himself as the year progresses.
IT WAS GOOD TO WIN against Marshall --
because, you know, it was better than losing -- but the game does not
carry the midseason clout of WVU's conference schedule.
We agree with Huggins' belief that the Marshall
game would be better served for both programs if it was played earlier
in the year, say in December, before league play begins.
How would that make the game any less important than it is now, when it is played in mid- to late January?
WHAT THE MARSHALL series is to WVU in its
present scheduling incarnation is a nuisance, albeit an
often-challenging one, that diverts attention from more important
matters at hand.
During the next four games in a nine-day period
from Saturday though Jan. 30, the Mountaineers will face Big East foes
Cincinnati at home, St. John's and undefeated, top-ranked Syracuse on
the road and Pitt at home.
Each one of those games outweighs the importance of the Marshall game, especially one played at this stage of the season.
IT SEEMS THE ONLY REASON the Marshall game
is played when it is, in Charleston, is because the state legislature
is in session and is not in session in December.
The game apparently has become a social event, a hobnob for state lawmakers.
If that's the case, and what else would it be, don't bet on the game's time frame changing anytime soon.
Us fans are used to politicians influencing a WVU-Marshall series, aren't we?
ANYWAY, ANNOYANCES ASIDE, the present and future look bright for Mountaineer basketball.
Considering the experience being gained by WVU's
talented newcomers, the additions next year of transfer sophomore point
guard Juwan Staten and junior center Aaric Murray and a highly regarded
incoming freshman class, the next few seasons look promising, indeed.
It's a pleasant thought, but let's not think about it right now.
RIGHT NOW, LET'S ENJOY being witnesses to Jones' All-American run and Bryant's All-Big East one.
We will miss them, but they aren't gone yet.
Let's see how far these guys and this young and
precocious supporting cast can take us under Huggins' tutelage during
this season of unexpected success.