Key Losses: C D'or Fischer (7.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg), F Tyrone Sally (12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.2 spg)
Postseason: NCAA: Defeated Creighton 63–61, defeated Wake Forest 111–105, defeated Texas Tech 65–60, lost to Louisville 93–85 in the regional finals
Frederick, MD/Hargrave Military Academy
Hurricane, WV/Fork Union Military Academy
Gahanna, OH/Transfer from Penn State
New Martinsville, WV/Redshirt 2004-05
Summers should have the most impact. He started at center for a season at Penn State and had a year to get acclimated to Beilein's system. "We're pleased we took him," Beilein says. "Our team's work habits are so strong. He learned from that." Since the Mountaineers only have 10 scholarship players, neither Ruoff nor Alexander is expected to redshirt. Ruoff can shoot the ball deep, while Alexander will add athleticism. Talkington and Sowards are walk-ons.
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There's a lovefest going on in the Mountaineer State with West Virginia's basketball team. Coach John Beilein righted a ship heading downward in 2005 and captured the imagination of his state and the entire nation with his deliberate, 3-point happy offense. "We've always had fans from West Virginia who had adopted us," says Beilein. "But after last year we had some from other parts of the nation adopt us too. They liked our kids. It's nice to be the underdogs and experience success."
The Mountaineers shockingly made the finals of the Big East Tournament, then finished a mere nine points -- in overtime -- away from a Final Four appearance. Since then the networks have come calling, beefing up an already tough league schedule with teams like UCLA and Oklahoma. Still, expectations are high in Morgantown. NCAA tournament darling Kevin Pittsnogle is back after flirting with the NBA Draft as is big-shot specialist Mike Gansey. In fact, the only full-time starter gone from last season's Cinderella team is forward Tyrone Sally, who should be capably replaced by Frank Young, a star in the Big East tourney.
Pittsnogle, a 6-foot-11-inch senior, will be the center of everyone's attention this season. His outside shooting sparkled in last season's Big East Tournament and then in NCAA tourney games against Creighton, Wake Forest, Texas Tech and Louisville. But Pittsnogle only started 17 games last season. Until late in the year he was coming off the bench for shot-blocker D'or Fischer, who started 18 games.
"Kevin is more confident now," Beilein says. "He's starting to understand what he can do with his body on the block. When he's in there for 32 minutes he can do things both inside and out."
Beilein likes the fact that Pittsnogle led the team in charges taken.
Behind him will be Penn State transfer Rob Summers, a 7-footer who is more of a rebounder and defensive specialist. Young, a 6-5 junior, took advantage of limited time at Madison Square Garden, hit some big shots, made a name for himself and probably earned a starting power forward position. "We can do some more things with him," says the coach. "He can post up. We've got to get him to the foul line more."
Gansey, meanwhile, will try to make a bid for the NBA with a consistent season at small forward. He not only hits shots, but he also has a knack for getting to loose balls. Now his task is to gain strength and not get worn down.
Last season many expected Darris Nichols, then a freshman, to start on the bench but finish as the Mountaineers' point guard. J.D. Collins had a different idea and became the team leader running Beilein's offense. "His emergence was huge," says Beilein. "He really came into his own in February. His layup at the buzzer against St. John's was really big for him."
That game-winner helped propel WVU into the NCAA tournament. Also a fine defender, Collins will again start at the point. Nichols, though, lends quickness and gained great experience in the Big East tourney. He's adding weight and learning to use his body and his left hand more effectively. Look for Collins and Nichols to see action at the same time this season.
Allowing such a setup is the versatile Joe Herber, perhaps the team's craftiest player. Anything but quick, Herber, a 6-6 shooting guard, knows when to take a shot and anticipates well both offensively and defensively. Behind Herber is the coach's son, Patrick Beilein, who has an uncanny ability to come off the bench and hit big shots -- big, long shots. His range stretches defenses.
West Virginia's unorthodox offense will continue to give opponents fits. "One of the keys to last season," says Beilein, "is our kids started to read freedom in our offense. They weren't so robotic. When they picked up on that, we took off."
Defensively, West Virginia will still have to use such ploys as the 1-3-1 zone to overcome a lack of quickness. Then, of course, there is the attention that the Mountaineers' success and names like Pittsnogle will bring. The team will be sneaking up on no one in 2005-06.
"We'll be a target," Beilein says, "and we have a very difficult schedule. But we have to take advantage of the opportunity."
Collins, Gansey and Herber will provide consistency, and Pittsnogle, Young and Patrick Beilein will add the shooting for the Mountaineers to earn a second straight NCAA tournament bid.