Rich Stevens: Osborne has UC rolling
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Oh, he's a sly one that Dwaine Osborne. Telling anyone that would listen that his first University of Charleston men's basketball team would struggle before the semester break was enough to trick even the most attentive of hoops observers.
They not only didn't struggle, they won five of their first six games before a three-game hiccup sent them reeling, but only temporarily.
Since then, Osborne - whose greatest Mountain State claim to fame was winning 20 games with Glenville State in 2008-09 - has UC on a seven-game winning streak and tied for second with Shepherd in the Mountain East Conference standings.
He wasn't the sexiest hire for Charleston, which had just gone through two high-profile additions in Greg White, the former Marshall University coach, and Mark Downey, an alumnus who had Arkansas Tech at No. 1 among the United States' NCAA Division II teams in his final season in Russellville.
A collective yawn was heard throughout the ranks of former West Virginia Conference and current Mountain East Conference coaches who were getting used to the fiery Downey and the success his programs brought. He was 60-29 with an NCAA Atlantic Region appearance in 2012.
Everybody simply wanted to know what kinds of recruiting limitations were put on Osborne on the heels of the UC public relations crisis resulting from three players being arrested for an alleged mugging in a Charleston alley.
Immediate mediocrity was the expectation from a coach who had three winning seasons in eight campaigns at Glenville State (2005-09) and University of Texas at Permian Basin (2009-13).
There is a certain mundane quality about Osborne's personality that isn't lost on myself. Never 100-percent happy, but never insulting to his players.
That's not to say watching his team play is a banal courtside practice.
The Golden Eagles have done something few college teams at any level can - manage time and score.
Giving UC a double-digit lead is like spotting the Denver Broncos a two-touchdown advantage in the second half - you can still win, but the climb is challenging at the minimum.
They have turned the ball over 10 times or fewer in nine of 16 games and finished with one against UVa-Wise. However, their most impressive accomplishment in that regard might be the 13 against West Liberty. The Hilltoppers, unbeaten and No. 1 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches rankings, are forcing 19.8 mistakes.
The Hilltoppers have forced more than 19 turnovers only once in their last six games, but UC's 13 in the season's fourth game was sandwiched in a series of five contests when foes were turning it over an average of 25 against WLU. By the way, UC visits West Liberty on Saturday.
The key has been Osborne's utilization of his starters and bench, including some of the younger players on the roster.
The most notable of them is sophomore guard Tino DiTrapano, the former George Washington High School player who averaged 6.7 minutes as a true freshman last season at UC.
The deceptive and savvy DiTrapano has afforded the Golden Eagles quality court time, averaging 14.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and only 1.9 turnovers in 28.7 minutes during UC's winning streak.
Osborne said DiTrapano is "not perfect" in his decision-making (i.e. when to drive to the basket and when not to), but he sure looks close to it.
Exploiting opportunities is the name of every game and in basketball, it's penetrating against a shortlived gap in a zone or man-to-man defense.
Overall, Osborne has managed to combine the personalities of Downey holdovers Aleksander Kesic, Xavier Humphrey and Fred Simpson with newcomers Denzel Douglas, Baptiste Boucharel and Austin Brewer to help UC peak when it's most necessary without a prolonged slump.
He said that slump would occur in the first part of the season and that never happened.
The Golden Eagles seek their eighth consecutive victory tonight when they host Shepherd for sole possession of second place in the MEC.
Come to think of it, he never said how he expected his team to play after the semester break.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.