By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This is the “inside story” on the West Virginia University basketball team.
You know how America has fallen in love with those shows that give you the inside scoop, shows like “Inside Edition,” “Access Hollywood” and almost anything E! puts on the air.
Well, there’s an “inside story” on the Mountaineers, too, although it didn’t really come to the surface until Saturday when Bob Huggins’ best players decided it was time to end their finals break and begin playing their best basketball.
That came in the second half of what should have been a laugher over a one-win Texas A&M-Corpus Christi team, and when it happened the team showed its true personality, just in time for what figures to be a tougher game at 7 p.m. tonight in the Coliseum against the Tennessee Tech Titans, a 6-4 team that has won three straight.
The game is the second in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, the last before the Mountaineers head to Vegas to face Missouri State and Baylor.
For the most part, college basketball has evolved into more of a guard-forward oriented game than ever before, partly due to the 3-point line, partly because the professionals were snatching up all the superior big men before they could get their grade reports from their first year in college.
However, it would seem that the inside scoop is that the true personality of this WVU team is its inside play, built around center Deniz Kilicli and forward Kevin Jones.
This is not a passing fancy either. In fact, it is built more on fancy passing.
True, the supporting cast, headed by shooting guard Truck Bryant, has to operate efficiently for the Mountaineers to reach their potential, but they will not win the games for WVU, only put them in position to win.
For WVU to win, it is going to have to be superior inside with Kilicli and Jones, obviously scoring and rebounding but also, as they showed against Corpus Christi, passing the ball.
The most obvious change in the second half when they went back into the game after being banished for lackadaisical play and foul trouble was their nifty interior passing, especially by Kilicli to set Jones up for easy shots.
“Me and Deniz have a connection going. I look for him and he looks for me,” Jones said after he scored 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field. “He is a real good passer. The coaches want him to do more of that.”
To look at Kilicli, who is muscular and sometimes awkward, it would not seem that he can thread the needle so deftly inside, yet that is just what he is doing at his best. While credited with only two assists, a number that seemed a bit questionable, there were some sweet inside passes that didn’t result directly in baskets. Kilicli showed a guard-like ability to see the interior passing lanes and find a way of getting the ball between the bulky inside defenders.
“Once we spread the team — they are not a great defensive team — gaps open,” he said after the Corpus Christi game. “Once you realize where the gaps are in the zone, you know where to pass and it’s so easy.”
This isn’t the first time Kilicli showed an ability to set up shots.
“The Miami game I had five assists, and Truck made all five of the shots,” he said.
Until WVU shows it can hit consistently from the outside, Bryant needing some help there from either Jabarie Hinds or Gary Browne, the two freshman point guards, teams will drop inside and double the man with the ball, be it Jones or Kilicli.
If, however, they are able to spot the double team and get the ball to the open big man, it usually results in a dunk, a layup or a short, open jump shot.
The No. 1 option, of course, whether it is from the guards or Kilicli, is Jones, who is among the leading scorers in the Big East and is capable of having a truly big season.
“They are supposed to look for K.J. every time down the floor,” Huggins said Saturday. “Maybe they can figure out why now. They should.”
Jones is averaging 20.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, while Kilicli is averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds a game.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.