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Predictions

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Here are a few truths, as I consider them, around these parts.

1) I go long stretches without vacations.
2) I cram multiple getaways into a short time.
3) I hem and haw — “Is that right? Both, huh?” — about leaving this space dormant for however many days it is I’m gone.

You have a No. 4, I’m sure, but I’m not going there. I know it’s real, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it — because I don’t, for many reasons, none larger than that whole “it’s real” part. But I’ll be on the back deck for a few days and you’ll be here whenever your mouse or minds wander. I’m grateful for that, so I want to keep it spinning while I’m gone.

I was reading the comments recently, and my train of thought connected with one from a while back: Many of you are pretty providential. There was a time, way back when, when I can remember Someone telling me “Your blog is so good!” and I said, “Yeah, and I don’t have a lot to do with that,” and the Person, without hesitation, replied, “Yeah, it is hilarious.”

I didn’t know how to take that, except to laugh.

But, like, ever since then, the conversation has shifted, and where “hilarious” once stood now stands adjectives like “civilized” and “entertaining” and “smart.” One time someone said “astute,” but that was at a bar, and I wasn’t comfortable accepting that word from that guy at that hour. But it happened.

Anyhow, I pocketed an idea last week that I really ought to save for three weeks from now when I’m gone for 10 days later. And here it is: Predictions.

Come up with your most certain, most compelling predictions about anything. I’m not sure we care much about a player’s stats or a team’s win-loss record as much as, say, who starts here and there or who’s hired and fired or what stories develop in sports on campus or in the Big 12 or even what headlines pop up in college sports. Example: I muttered that Freg Hoiberg might have coached his last game at Iowa State … and I might be right for a different reason now. I also spent time and space yesterday touting Ka’Raun White. It’s an open bag: Recruits, scheduling, reform, anything and everything.

The canvas is blank and it’s all yours. If you need me, I’ll be in the garage. See you Tuesday.

Ka’Raun’s coming

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015-04-13 16.33.04

That’s Kevin White’s younger brother, Ka’Raun, hanging around Monday’s practice at Lackawanna College. He’s 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, and in the measured assurances of his coaches there, he’s better right now than Kevin was when he enrolled at WVU.

Ka’Raun says he’ll enroll next month, and I say he’s going to play for the Mountaineers. He is. Ka’Raun redshirted two seasons ago at Lackawanna and played last year (leading the conference in receptions), so he has three years left to play three seasons. But above all that, WVU doesn’t have someone like him, a 21-year-old who looks and plays like his older brother. I’m not saying he’s the same, so let’s get that our of our heads right now. I’m just saying he’s different than anyone WVU has right now, and that will be to his benefit.

In August, Lackawanna’s coaches thought they’d have some fun with Ka’Raun and make him work out with the offensive and defensive linemen in the weight room. He barely blinked and benched 225 pounds again and again and again. A little while ago, he did a triple squat at 415 pounds and a triple bench at 335. I have to think he’s a reason why Dana Holgorsen and Lonnie Galloway are so eager to figure out the outside positions during spring football, or at least why they want the players competing now to have a real sense or urgency.

Then again, Ka’Raun was an inside receiver most of the time at Lackawanna, so perhaps his future is there. There’s a future somewhere, though. Tell me this doesn’t look familiar. (The first play is nuts.)

The crazy part? The other brother, Kyzir, is ahead of them both. WVU, Pitt, Louisville and Arizona State have offered him for the upcoming recruiting class, and they’re going to have a lot of company before this season is over. All Kyzir will say about WVU is that it’s a meaningful destination because of the opportunity the school gave to Kevin and that it might give him a chance to play with Ka’Raun, which is something he enjoyed last season.

(Also, this is not why I was gone for two days. It’s a sidebar to the main reason, which is a draft day takeout about Kevin White, and I fear there isn’t enough space in the paper and on our blog to tell his tale properly. His story really is something else.)

Position changes, at long last

Monday, April 13, 2015

WVU will practice for the 10th time tomorrow, and maybe it’s because we’re at a distance throughout the process, but we just hadn’t seen or heard much news … until Saturday. This depth chart that was issued at the start of the spring hadn’t changed much, save the Jacky Marcellus shift from inside receiver to running back and Yodny Cajuste’s ascension at left tackle, where he looked really good Saturday.

Then came the news, news you sort of anticipated: Daikiel Shorts from inside receiver to wide receiver. Dana Holgorsen and Lonnie Galloway were intent on figuring out the outside positions in the spring, and so just past the halfway point, bang, Shorts moves to the Z.

He looked good, and Ricky Rumph, replacing Daryl Worley, had a tough day, surrendering three touchdowns to Shorts and getting blocked out of the play by Shorts on a long touchdown run to Rumph’s side. (Khairi Sharif looked solid, by the way…). But the story was not Shorts, but Shelton Gibson. His time is now, or else, it seems, and if Dana and Lonnie didn’t like what they saw at Z and shifted Shorts, that ought to sound alarms at the X. That’s where they’re looking now, and that seems obvious.

And Gibson had a tough day. He dropped a handful of passes in drills and scrimmage action, and though he caught a 30-yard touchdown to start the scrimmage, he also dropped one later, too. Afterward, Gibson said what a lot of others were thinking: He’s so far known for the passes he hasn’t caught.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gibson was curiously ineligible as a freshman that year and then dropped a critical pass in the first half of last year’s opener against Alabama.

“Every time I catch a ball,” Gibson said, “I think about that pass I dropped. Every single time.”

Trailing the nation’s top-ranked team 20-17 in the third quarter, the Mountaineers drove to the Crimson Tide 30-yard line. On third-and-15, quarterback Clint Trickett saw Gibson run a route on the left side that created space just past the first-down marker. The ball was there when the defender wasn’t, and the Mountaineers had a certain first down.

Gibson dropped the pass and Josh Lambert missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. Alabama was in the end zone six plays later and would win 33-23.

“I think it’s going to stick with me the rest of my life,” Gibson said. “People are still talking about it. But it’s a good thing — it has its good and it has its bad. That was a big game and a big play. You need to make those plays. Every time I drop a ball out there, I have to think, ‘It’s a big game and a big play.’ I use it for drive.”

And that’s all for me today, and tomorrow. I’m on assignment for a takeout piece and out of pocket until Wednesday morning — and then I start a brief vacation Thursday.

Good news, everybody

Monday, April 13, 2015

A season ago, we swooned for dugout shenanigans, inverted sloths and WWE cheers and maneuvers. Bubble gum hats, rally caps and this weird thing where someone gets an extra-base hit and some guys on the bench demand the base-runner’s attention just to say “Hi!” are in this season. It’s understated, but maybe WVU had bigger matters to tend to over the weekend.

And what a weekend it was…

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Let’s play 18!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Scoreboard_MMORAES

If all goes according to plan — and it looks like the weather might cooperate tonight — West Virginia will get to play 18 home games at Monongalia County Ballpark. The next 11 and 14 out of 15 would be at home and the Mountaineers, who are 18-12 overall and 4-5 in the Big 12, would get an appreciable boost. They’re three games (one well-timed, well-played weekend) out of first place and two three-game series are at home against the teams in third and second place. An at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament is very realistic.

“It almost feels like a new season’s about to start,” outfielder Shaun Wood said. “It’ll be really exciting to have the new field and to have fans finally come out. We haven’t really been at home in a while — all year, actually.”

We’ve talked and we’re going to talk a lot about what that new ballpark is going to do to the game, but a lot of this is about the consumer. Fans like idea of offense, the sound of balls pinging off bats and the sight of their players wearing out a path across home plate — and don’t forget this venue will be a minor league park, and the MiLB experience is all about entertainment.

What WVU’s players and manager Randy Mazey were careful to say when they previewed the stadium was how friendly the new digs are to the patrons.

“What I noticed is the stands are right on top of the field, so it’s going to be a really good atmosphere for the fans with the players being that close and for the players having the fans right there,” Wood said. “That’s the first thing I noticed. And then the scenery up there, you look out and see all over Morgantown. It’s beautiful. You won’t get a better view around here than that.”

ViewFromSeats_MMORAES-4

That’s an eyeful, and there’s so much to what greets the eye — except, oddly enough, a batter’s eye out in dead center. As for what is there, let’s begin with the obvious and what’s going on in left field.

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Yard work

Thursday, April 9, 2015

We’re going to spend much, much more time on this tomorrow, but WVU’s baseball stadium is good to go for the opener tomorrow night — weather permitting … because of course. Small, though still important things like the clubhouses won’t be finished, but for patrons and participants, it’s game ready.

And it looks fantastic. You tell me what’s more impressive to see: The (almost) finished product or the always irresistible time-lapse photography that takes you from start to finish.

What’s sort of cool about all of this is that despite the three week delay, WVU opens with 11 straight home games. The Mountaineers, still in the thick of things in the Big 12, will welcome the advantages, too, because the competition is formidable.

Bob Huggins: Right here if you need him

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The NCAA tournament was terrific again, but it wasn’t the story … again. Critical moments of one of this generation’s most notable games were defined by officials and not players (and this doesn’t even account for a ridiculous charge call when the defensive player was turned, on one foot and falling backward. I’d call it the worst of the season, but Gary Browne drew a charge after he fell against Oklahoma State. Come to think of it, that was the game when an official couldn’t make up his mind an simply ruled a do-over when LeBryan Nash stumbled out of bounds into the official).

Then in the biggest game of the season, the officials made a mess late, had the national head of officiating try to explain it a day later and then needed FOTB Dan Gavitt to clean up that mess a day later to say that, yes, the officials had all the resources they needed to not blow that call. The explanation is so honest and so good: They made up their mind before they needed to. And these are the people who make snap judgments on block and charges, goaltending, traveling, palming, double dribbles, so on and so forth. Officiating is in such a bad place right now, and it has to be repaired.

Trouble is, it’s only part of the problem. Duke’s players and coaches had barely finished cutting down the nets when Sports Illustrated highlighted the obvious and weighed in on a weighty offseason for the college game. Gavitt is a key figure here, too, and he seems optimistic about the coming men’s college basketball oversight committee, a collection of administrators and ideally coaches and players who will have a say in suggesting, shaping and even submitting reform. It’s a think box that’s supposed to work but will meet resistance and outside its closed doors.

People won’t be rushing to join because there are obstacles to progress they realize they won’t be able to clear. But some want to be there, and it takes a specific person to sit at that table. It’s for someone who is opinionated and unapologetic and influential and unconcerned with the black hat others have placed atop his head.

You know where I’m going here, and that guy hopes we’re not alone.

“I would love to be on it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “It probably won’t happen, but I would love to be on it.”

Huggins is all the things a coach on that committee ought to be, but while that’s what’s needed, it’s not necessarily what’s desired. Consider this: Freshman guard Daxter Miles said WVU was going to beat Kentucky, and that became a reason to skewer Miles. When the Mountaineers lost by 39 points, Miles was obligated to face the media. So, too, was every other player and coach.

When an official screws up a call or a game, he has to face one reporter in as controlled an environment as can be imagined. Huggins has long believed that if coaches and players are made to answer questions about strategy and decisions, maybe officials ought to, too.

That particular idea might never happen, but that kind of abstract thinking is what’s needed and what he offers.

“I think they need to hear different opinions,” Huggins said. “I just don’t know if they want to.”

‘There were a lot of good things that happened’

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jim Phelan coached Mountaineers at Mount St. Mary’s and famously wore a bow tie. Bob Huggins coaches Mountaineers and famously wore a bow tie one time. Apart from that, the two really don’t have much in common, and Huggins doesn’t really know the man for whom one of the handful of national coach of the year awards is named. Huggins won the Phelan last week in Indianapolis, a nice chaser for the Big 12 coach of the year prize he won in March.

That came with a $30,00 contract incentive, which joined payouts for beating Kansas ($25,000), tying for fourth in the Big 12 standings ($10,000), reaching the NCAA tournament ($20,000), winning a first-round game ($30,000) and winning a second-round game ($40,000) for a whopping $155,000 in bonuses earned for on-the-floor achievements during the season. Boosters for season ticket sales and academic success, an unheralded Huggins triumph while at WVU, will make that even bigger.

But coaching honors don’t mean much to Huggins, and you know how he feels about reflecting on what’s passed under his bridge, so Tuesday was a time to look ahead and what the Mountaineers plan to do and have to do in the 2015-16 season. What does he make of the press, the motion offense, Shaka Smart and his incoming recruits?

The Big 12 goes there … but where exactly is that?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

As they vowed to do back in December, the ACC and Big 12 have apparently deregulated conference championship games, and the landscape could look much different as soon as 2016.

What this means is the Big 12 can have a title game with just 10 teams, which is currently impermissible by NCAA rules the football conferences don’t believe they have to follow, and it means the ACC might get really weird with this: A three-division, 14-team conference.

“I think there’s some belief that ACC would play three divisions, have two highest-ranked play in postseason,” said Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the new NCAA Football Oversight Committee. “Really, nobody cares how you determine your champion. It should be a conference-level decision.

“But because the ACC has persisted in saying, ‘We’re not sure what we’ll do,’ there’s probably a little bit of a shadow over it. In the end, I don’t think it’ll be able to hold it up. We’ll probably have it in place for ‘16.”

That oversight committee would vet the legislation and pass on any recommendations to the NCAA Council for final approval. The new oversight committees in all sports are meant to streamline the rules-making process.

“This isn’t really changing the rule, it’s deregulating,” Bowlsby said. “It’s moving a little bit slow, but I don’t think it’s not stalled in any way.”

(There’s a clever conspiracy theory here that the ACC is making room for a 15th team, which would give it an even 16 teams in its other major sports … and with John Swofford involved, that’s irresistibly intriguing. We haven’t had an expansion caper in too long.)

Of course, it may also mean nothing changes, if not immediately then ever. Deregulation simply means the conferences have the authority to do what they want to do, which in this infant era of separation and autonomy is the way it ought to be.

Personally, I’m for that idea as much as I am against the Big 12 having a (reactionary) title game. The money and the risk/reward don’t carry anywhere near enough weight to affect any influential scale. At the Liberty Bowl it sounded like either Bowlsby was skeptical, too, or that he was at least suspicious about the league being behind it.

“We’re not asking for a waiver to have a playoff and we’re not necessarily declaring that we would have a playoff, he said. “We could certainly take our two highest-ranked teams and have them play, but one of those two teams would have won in the regular season. You have to question if it’s fair to ask that same team to beat the other team again to get past it. I could capably argue either side of that.

Bowlsby reminded his audience that one or two different outcomes on the final week of the regular season could have gotten one of both of his jilted teams into the playoff. Bowlsby did say thought will be given to changing the conference-wide co-champion rule that doesn’t break ties.

“We’ll talk about it, he said. “I think it’s reasonable to argue that without a (championship game) that we might not want a second such situation where we’re different than the others. But our coaches and our administrators are the ones who put the rule in place because they wanted more student-athletes, more coaches and more institutions to be called champions.

“It isn’t just in football. We do it in everything. Would it be feasible to change it just for football? Probably. If that’s the will of the (athletic directors), that’s what we’ll do.

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JaJuan Seider and the search for depth

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Once blessed with a dearth of running backs, assistant coach JaJuan Seider is conducting a critical search during spring football, which reaches the halfway point at WVU today (it’s the seventh practice, there are seven more and then there’s the all-too-informal spring game). His top two backs returned, but he lost Nos. 3, 4 and 5. For myriad reasons, the Mountaineers have needed those players in recent years, and the future should be no different, though the inspiration might be. Watch as the innovative Mountaineers meticulously manufacture depth this spring.