INDIANAPOLIS – West Virginia coach Bob Huggins talked at length in the preseason about how much of an impact Deniz Kilicli could have for the Mountaineers.
The 20-game suspension by the NCAA in response to a question about his amateur status put the Turkish 6-9 center on the shelf. But he was always lurking as a possible late-season addition that could be a difference-maker.
He hasn’t won games for the Mountaineers but it’s hard to dispute that at times he has played significant minutes during key stretches of the game. His productivity is quite high, averaging 3.4 points in just 6.6 minutes. He’s not as much of a rebounder, but he stays with the basketball once he gets in the post.
Why am I selling Kilicli to you at this juncture after he played just two minutes in the Elite Eight win against Kentucky? The Wildcats’ game became much more of a 3-point affair for West Virginia. But against Duke with Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Mason and Miles Plumlee the Mountaineers will likely need Kilicli’s spot minutes during the national semifinal.
“It’s very possible, it depends on how the game goes," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s got a big body and our guys know how to throw him the ball. He’s got great hands. Our guys know to throw him the ball.’’
Kilicli earned his teammates’ respect early in practice. Once he was able to be productive, beginning on Feb. 3 against Pitt when he scored nine points in seven minutes, his value to the team off the bench has increased.
“He’s another threat in the post and he comes in the game and scores in quick bursts,’’ West Virginia wing Da’Sean Butler said. “He gives us some post presence that we need since we start out 6-7, 6-8.’’
Butler disputes at least my theory that Kilicli can be more of a banger if needed.
“He’s totally finesse man,’’ Butler said. “He’s definitely finesse. He’s a very rare post player being that he’s from overseas. He has his ruggedness but get ready for him to spin away. He’s got a little bit of stuff with him.’’
Zoubek is aware of how effective Kilicli has been for the Mountaineers in his brief time.
“He looks physical,’’ Zoubek said. “He comes in and he’s a little different than everybody else they have. He’s a true post and gives them that different look. It’s a tradeoff. They might be more physical underneath with him and force me to stay by the basket and protect the basket. The smaller guys can drag me out a bit more.’’
Kilicli may need to be needed for that West Virginia line change if the Mountaineers need a change of speed against the taller Blue Devils. He might only play a handful minutes but don’t be surprised if those are some of the more effective post minutes off the bench for the Mountaineers if they’re going to beat Duke.