MORGANTOWN - After Tuesday morning's loss to Kent State, a lot of folks were quick to write off this season's Mountaineers.
Sure, they're excruciatingly young - all but three are first-time college players (discarding the 39 minutes Kevin Noreen played last season) - and they're going to be overmatched plenty of times. They won't shoot 59 percent again (Oral Roberts), and they probably won't beat anybody else by 35 (Alcorn State). They will get beaten by veteran teams with guys who've played with each other for years (Kent State).
But there's still reason to believe they'll win their share of games and most of those begin and end with the man at the end of the bench with the pullover on, Bob Huggins.
You had to like what he said the Thursday about walk-on Paul Williamson playing 19 minutes, while others -read into this what you will - like junior college transfer Dominique Rutledge and true freshman Aaron Brown each played 3.
''Paul comes in and listens and tries to do what he's supposed to do, and some of those guys still think they're going to outstubborn me,'' Huggins said. ''I just want to make sure they understand they're not.''
But we know what Huggins can do. The fourth-winningest active coach in college basketball has often said the greatest motivator is that bench. He'll eventually get everyone on the same page.
But there's more to this team than a Hall of Fame caliber coach.
Kevin Jones, through three games, looks like Da'Sean Butler. An unfair comparison, perhaps, but the man is taking his game to the next level. He has no choice, just as Butler didn't two years ago. Through three games, Jones is averaging 21 points, 13 rebounds and 36 minutes per outing.
''I was there when Da'Sean was at the peak of his game and he played really well,'' Jones said. ''He did whatever the team needed him to do to win, whether it was playing point guard, whether it was guarding the other team's best player. He just knew what it took for us to win, and I just want to be that same kind of leader out there as a senior.''
Deniz Kilicli also gives the Mountaineers hope. If he was fully aware, motivated, and assertive, he might be one of college basketball's greatest forces. He's 6-foot-9, 260 pounds and as solid as a 4.0 at Harvard. Under that unpolished look is a player with tremendous offensive skills with either hand. He just needs a little stick 'em on those hands and some edge on his attitude.
As it is, he's got great perspective.
Asked Thursday if a 35-point victory against an Alcorn State team that won four games last season and completely revamped the roster was enough to cure the team's many ills that were brought to light against Kent State, Kilicli laughed.
''It was two days ago,'' he said. ''I'm not like, 'awe, these guys are awesome,' I'm not going to say that. We've got to play Morehead State (at Charleston, Tuesday), then it starts. We've got to just keep getting better every day, just a little bit. Less turnovers, more rebounds. Every day we've got to put something on our game so when it comes to Big East (play), we'll be ready.''
Clearly, these freshmen are talented. Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne have emerged more quickly than others. But inside Pat Forsythe lurks a strong rebounder, Noreen is deadly from 17 feet in, just not active enough, according to Huggins. Keaton Miles is a starter already. It goes on and on. This isn't the end. It's only the beginning.
Meanwhile, in case you've lost track through three home basketball games in seven days, the football team is still playing with a shot at a BCS berth. All it needs is to win out and have Louisville, with a freshman quarterback, and Cincinnati, with a backup quarterback, lose once more. We'll know by 4 p.m. today if any of that happened, as they both have noon kickoffs.
Coach Dana Holgorsen says the Mountaineers can't get caught up in those games.
''Don't pay attention to that. You worry about what you can control,'' he said. ''We can get better academically, we can practice some young kids, and we can give guys time to heal up. I may be a fan and watch a couple games, but I'm not going to be dissecting it or cheering loudly or any of that. You only worry about what you can control. We can only control playing our next game and the next, and we're happy. The only way that that will work out is if we win the next two games. If we win the next two games, and we're in position, then that's great. If we don't win, then it's not going to matter.''
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com