By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Eight is enough.
Or is it?
That’s the burning question these days as No. 25 West Virginia (14-6, 5-3) returns to the Coliseum for a 7 p.m. game against Seton Hall (10-12, 4-6) today with only eight scholarship players as shooting guard Casey Mitchell sits out a suspension and Danny Jennings ... well, who knows about the big center who was kicked off the team after he left the Coliseum at halftime of the last home game.
Jennings was back in the Coliseum prior to Tuesday afternoon’s practice, although coach Bob Huggins swore he knew not why, putting a quick quash on rumors that he would be returning to the team just in time to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the Hall’s massive rebounder Herb Pope.
Since the personnel changes, WVU is 1-1, having lost a heartbreaker at Louisville and having beaten Cincinnati, both on the road.
They did it in both games using just seven players, dubbed “The Magnificent Seven,” but this game’s matchup may allow Jonnie West to join the fray and make it “The Elite Eight.”
The Pirates, under first-year coach Ralph Willard, are no pushover, as they have overcome a lot of adversity to get into the position where they could actually beat Syracuse on its home court.
“You go to Syracuse and win the way they did, you’re pretty good, and I don’t care what they say,” WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. “You watch the Georgetown game, they played really good. Then Pitt, they were tough for two-thirds of the game. They just kind of wore down.”
If nothing else, Seton Hall leads the world in shots.
Gun shots, that is.
The Pirates’ two best players, Pope and shooting guard Jeremy Hazell, have been victims of gunshot wounds in the past couple of years, each being fortunate enough to not only survive but come back and play.
Hazell’s was the latest, coming at a time when he was nursing a wrist injury and not playing, and it was superficial in nature. Pope’s was more serious, but now the two of them are near the top of their game and each plays a key role for Seton Hall.
West Virginia knows something about Hazell’s abilities. Two years ago, in Newark, N.J., he scored 29 points against the Mountaineers, and then last year there they turned him completely loose.
In a 90-87 overtime loss to WVU, Hazell scored 41 points, taking 33 shots. It could have been a lot worse, by the way, were he hot from 3-point range, for he made only 4 of 19 from beyond the arc.
At WVU last year the Mountaineers held him to nine points.
As for Pope, he did not play two years ago but grabbed off 21 rebounds in last year’s two games.
Rest assured, the Mountaineers are aware of both players.
“If he’s making shots, then we got to control the other guys,” Joe Mazzulla said of Hazell. “If he’s going to be taking a shot every possession, then you can’t be fouling the other guys when they are rebounding. You let him do what he does and control everyone else.”
The problem is, as WVU found out when he scored 41, Hazell has not met a shot he didn’t like.
“You have to watch him when he steps over half court. Huggins is going to be mad if he makes a half-court shot or a layup,” Mazzulla said. “And he’s going to make some.”
The Mountaineers may challenge him with the bigger John Flowers, their best defender, or with some kind of combo defense.
Huggins sounds almost like he’s more concerned about Pope’s rebounding.
“Pope was the best rebounder in our league a year ago and I think he’s No. 3 now. That’s kind of playing himself back into shape. He’s got great anticipation and got great hands and he pursues every ball. That’s what great rebounders do,” he said.
The burden of handling Pope will fall mostly to Cam Thoroughman, who gives away size but is used to that after four years of undersized battles in the post.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.