When this basketball season started 12 or 15 years ago, or so it seems, Bob Huggins made an observation that seemed terribly obvious and that would pan out over the course of the season.
He saw he had Kevin Jones as a potential star, Deniz Kilicli as an inside force and Truck Bryant as an outside shooter. They were his only three experienced players, his only proven commodities, and he expressed the opinion that for West Virginia to have a chance to win any game against a decent team at least two of them would have to be at the top of their game.
No one can argue that he not only was correct, but as we look back it appears that he actually underestimated just how important one of those players was ... and it wasn’t Jones or Kilicli.
Jones, it turned out, often brought his A game, and Kilicli wasn’t yet ready to be a player whose performance would control whether or not the Mountaineers would win the game.
Which brings us to the enigmatic Mr. Bryant, one of the most bubbling personalities ever to play at West Virginia and, when on his game, one of the best.
In truth, more than Kevin Jones, more than Kilicli, it was Bryant’s play that dictated the outcome of games.
Analyzing the Mountaineers’ wins, of which there were too few, and their losses, of which there have been too many, the difference seems to be in Bryant’s play.
In truth, until WVU lost its last game to Marquette with Bryant lighting the Golden Eagles up for 25 points, Bryant had been off his game in nearly every game the Mountaineers dropped.
At the same time, when they won, he was often the driving force.
Take a look at what the numbers showed heading into the aberration that was the Marquette game.
Bryant in WVU wins and losses:
Wins — 42.2 percent on field goals, 36.7 percent on 3-pointers, 19.8 points per game.
Losses — 25.0 percent on field goals, 21.3 percent on 3-pointers, 11.4 points per game.
The numbers there are really startling when you think about it.
Bryant averages more than eight points a game more in victories than defeats.
Considering that WVU lost six games this year by six or fewer points, you can figure that the Mountaineers could have won at least five of those games — the Marquette game was lost by a point with him scoring those 25 — if “the other” Bryant had shown up.
In victories Bryant averaged almost 20 points a game, twice topping 30 and seven times scoring 22 or more.
Oddly, Jones’ play doesn’t drop off nearly as drastically in defeats. In fact, until the Marquette game, when he didn’t have a good game while Bryant did, he had averaged 19.3 points in defeats and 20.9 in victories. Only Jones’ shooting percentage shows much of a difference, shooting 53.2 percent in wins and 46.3 percent in losses,
perhaps because he is pressing and takes more difficult and hurried shots with the Mountaineers behind.
So why does WVU have to have Bryant at the top of his game to win?
The reason probably is because without him Huggins is relying on two freshmen to run the game and they are not yet ready to take the load when Bryant isn’t handling it. It’s as it was when Bryant was benched in the Pitt game, only to come off the bench and turn in a big all-around performance.
He scored 15 points, tied his season high in rebounds with seven, had four steals and hit six of seven pressure free throws.
When asked about it after the game, freshman Gary Browne summed it up quite correctly:
“He didn’t take bad shots. He ran the offense. You saw that,” he said. “He’s played here four years. It’s not like he’s a freshman like most of us. He knows how to play the game and he came out and did everything right.”
Bryant, you see, isn’t just a scorer. They need him for his defense and his floor play. They need him for his leadership, for he is the role model for the freshmen and they couldn’t have a better one, for he works at the game and is honest in his evaluation of his own play, admitting when he messed up and expecting to be recognized when he plays well.
His college career now is in its final days, two more regular-season games and then the Big East Tournament.
Senior Day comes up Tuesday against DePaul and it will be an emotional, important game, one that screams out for Bryant to use the Marquette performance as a catalyst and join Jones in leading the Mountaineers into the NCAA Tournament.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.