As I said, West Virginia is shaping up to have a solid team this year, but it should be an unusual year in Morgantown. The pieces are there to get the job done, but after losing two of the team's best players in Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant, there are going to be some major questions marks surrounding the team. Along with this, the Mountaineers weren't exactly stellar last year with a 19-14 overall record and just a 9-9 record in Big East play. They are moving to the Big 12, which is probably a little weaker than the Big East, but improving on that conference record will be key.
They did make the NCAA Tournament, so most would consider it a pretty successful season, but they did get knocked out in the first round. If I had to use a Big Ten comparison for where West Virginia was last year, I would probably put them as a little weaker version of Purdue, but about in that range. They had the ability to get up and challenge or even beat a good team here or there, but for the most part, they were fairly inconsistent and really couldn't do much against the top notch competition.
So the challenge for this season is taking what the team had last year and trying to improve on that performance. Addressing the losses of Jones and Bryant will be difficult, but West Virginia has a slew of transfers and incoming recruits to help fill the void. Transfers Aaric Murray, Matt Humphrey, and Juwan Staten all come in helping to make up for the team's lost contributions. All three of these players have some major college playing experience and CBSSports is already projecting that all three will earn starting jobs for the upcoming season.
Along with this, West Virginia's 2012 recruiting class brings in three prospects that all have some big college potential. Clearly, the most hyped recruit is PF Elijah Macon who was ranked as a 4* player by ESPN. It's doubtful that any of these recruits see any starting time, but players like Macon may be able to make an impact, especially if some of the transfers don't work out as well as expected. All three recruits will be in the frontcourt and although Murray will probably be starting at center, perhaps somebody like Brandon Watkins can come in with a backup role.
As I said earlier, this will be an unusual season for West Virginia. They were a solid team last year and have all the pieces to repeat or even improve on that success, especially given the easier slate in the Big 12, but there will be some major transitioning this year. Yes, they are bringing in three players that have already been proven at the college level, but none of them have had any success for West Virginia. Even transfers aren't always a guarantee, especially since some of them have had problems off the court in the past. I anticipate the newcomers will do just fine, but there's just no way to guarantee that success.
My prediction is that West Virginia will finish a little better than they did last year and probably end up around an 8 or a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This means that they should be a pretty big challenge when Michigan faces them and offer a chance to give the Wolverines a legitimate non-conference win that could help the team in seeding come March. Michigan should be favored, but don't overlook this game or the Mountaineers this year with their new additions and solid coaching.