It’s clear for West Virginia: There’s Kevin Jones, then everyone else

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NEW YORK- A visibly displeased Bob Huggins walked into the postgame press conference on Wednesday night after his team’s 78-62 loss to St. John’s and, as usual, found no need for sugarcoating.

“Honestly, I think kids today…they put a lot more value on their ability than what their ability really deserves,” said Huggins, lamentingly. “They’re talking about being in the [NBA Draft] Green Room and leaving early. It’s a joke. It’s a farce.”

Aside from Player of the Year candidate Kevin Jones’ 26 points and 14 rebounds, the Mountaineers struggled from the floor, shooting just 35% and turning the ball over 14 times, falling out of reach by the 11-minute mark of the first half.

Huggins made one thing clear.

“I asked our guys, who think they’re so good, I asked them, ‘Where would we be without No. 5 [Jones]?’” Huggins said. “What do you think our record would be without him?”

West Virginia’s starting backcourt, comprised of freshman Jabarie Hinds and senior Truck Bryant, shot a combined 7-of-25 from the floor against St. John’s, pushing more of the scoring responsibility onto Jones.

And, in hearing the way Huggins and the upperclassmen Bryant and Jones speak about their team, there seems to be a divide between the youth and the establishment. At the very least, there is a distinct recognition of the steep learning curve that these freshman face.

“Truck has had really good games and Truck has had some not-so-good games,” said Huggins. “It’s not fair to him at times. I think he feels some pressure to make some shots.”

“I told Truck and [Jones]. I told them they can’t be bad and us win. He can’t consistently be bad and have us win.”

On the other hand, Jones speaks like the knowledgeable and seasoned older brother, trying to translate Coach Huggins’ words into something less harsh.

“That falls on me, me and Truck [Bryant] being team leaders,” said Jones. “We have to make sure these young guys are ready to play every night. Coach is screaming at them, but as [the freshmen] get older, they will get the value of what Coach is talking about.”

Jones continues the balancing act between off-the-court mentor and on-the-court centerpiece, prompting Huggins to call him “the most valuable player in the country”.

“What he’s done, he’s playing with all those freshmen who don’t pass him the ball,” said Huggins in Jones’ defense. “The numbers that he gets are pretty good when they can’t pass him the ball.”

On the year, Jones is averaging nearly 21 points and 12 rebounds per game and has had standout performances in big wins over Kansas State (30 points, 12 rebounds) and Georgetown (22 points, 16 rebounds).

“Not at all. Not at all. Not at all,” Bryant said when asked if there was any competition for Jones as Big East Player of the Year, emphatically shaking his head. “He averages a double-double. Not at all.”

It seems like Jones is a given every night, and the Mountaineers win if he gets help, but lose if he doesn’t. In the continually-shifting Big East, that formula made West Virginia the supposed “second-best in the conference,” after their win over Georgetown, but opinions may have changed.

How will they fair on the road against Syracuse on Saturday, perhaps helped by the fact that center Fab Melo could miss more time with ongoing academic issues?

“[Melo] is probably the best shotblocker in the country,” said Huggins. “When you have that kind of guy around the rim, particularly with us. We have a hard time jumping over our wallet, you know? We’re not the most athletic bunch.”

More from the check-your-ego-at-the-door, respect-driven Huggins meritocracy.

Tip is on Saturday at 1pm.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_