If nothing else, Brandon Watkins appeared at a most opportune moment Saturday. Kevin Noreen, he of the air balled layup, was allowed to play just seven minutes. Nathan Adrian, the freshman whose slide continues, played four minutes and favored his sprained ankle.
A decisive double-double in 27 minutes was what West Virginia needed against Marshall.
And it really did come out of nowhere. Watkins hadn’t been playing and had been challenged in practice to prove his worth. Just before the Capital Classic, Watkins started to answer some of the questions asked of him. Then Huggins, admittedly running out of options in a sad first half, asked Watkins to show him something
“It’s really good for us because we can actually say, ‘Oh, we have one other guy to help us,’” Browne said. “Now we need to keep him going and keep on him every day in practice and every time we play a game and say, ‘All right, you already did this once. You can do this again.’”
That’s interesting because Watkins is an interesting piece.
Watkins is the longest, rangiest player on the team and the only guy who can block and contest shots inside. He’s not particularly explosive, but he seems to care about his role. There was one great sequence Saturday where he was spinning and swatting and altering shots and trying to grab a defensive rebound before the situation got the best of him and he was called for a foul. It wasn’t his fault, and Huggins screamed at Terry Henderson to help Watkins out, but it was fun to see Watkins going all out for 10 seconds.
He’s a bit slight, for now, to be a consistently great rebounder, but he gets his hands on a lot of stuff and he’ll outreach and outmaneuver people to get his share of boards. He doesn’t look really interested in scoring, but he screens and rolls pretty well and Juwan Staten seemed to recognize that as the game went on, which was also neat to see because that’s probably the most they’ve played together.
Noreen and Remi Dibo screen. They’re not very good rollers. Devin Williams is OK at it, but he’s thus far been a so-so player when he gets the ball fed to him inside, and he likes to shoot a little. Watkins set his screens Saturday and went to the basket and waited for something to happen.
It’s only a small sample and, seeing as if it was so sudden, there’s this urge to downplay it, to call it something that happened one night and not something that everyone saw coming. There’s a lot of Jacob Green there, if that means anything to you.
Yet WVU has a lot of practice time coming and desperately needs someone to play some effective minutes and do a good job at the basket before Williams wears down in, say, January. Really, Williams is all the Mountaineers have in that category. Adrian can’t play inside eight feet. Noreen can’t stay in games when asked to play inside. Dibo, who I thought was sneaky good serving a different purpose against Marshall, looks like he can be a blend of a more physical Adrian and a less physical, though more offensive Noreen.
If you set the expectations appropriately for Watkins — which is to say don’t expect a double-double very often, but also don’t ask him to play 27 minutes very often — there might be something there. So are you in or out on Watkins?