The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 7, 2011

WVU hosts No. 4 Pitt at critical time

MORGANTOWN — As this past weekend dawned tonight’s Backyard Brawl battle between Pitt and West Virginia in a sold-out Coliseum was going to be a key game in the Mountaineers’ bid to win the Big East regular season championship.

After the events of the weekend, it is a far more meaningful game to the Mountaineers, who suddenly find their season in jeopardy.

The Mountaineers stand at 6-4 in the Big East Conference, which is tied for sixth place with Connecticut.

That, in and of itself, does present much of a problem, but you don’t stand sixth place in a vacuum. The world is spinning and sometimes it seems WVU is going in the wrong direction.

Let’s take a look at what’s ahead on that schedule, which is among the toughest in the Big East.

WVU has three road games — two of which are potential, if not probable, losses.

They play at Syracuse and at Pitt.

The Mountaineers are 3-9 at the Carrier Dome, 1-6 at the Petersen Events Center, where Pitt almost never loses.

The good news is that WVU has five home games and one of those is against winless DePaul, a team you would think the Mountaineers would hammer but the last time anyone looked the Mountaineers were sneaking out of Chicago with a two-point victory over the Blue Demons on their home court.

The other four home games are against first place No. 4 Pitt; No. 9/8 Notre Dame, a streaking team that is in second place behind Pitt; No. 6/7 Connecticut and No.15/13 Louisville, a team that already owns a victory over WVU.

It may be inconceivable that WVU would lose to Pitt, Notre Dame, UConn and Louisville at home, the way the Mountaineers are playing at present doesn’t over any encouragement that they won’t. And if they do lose, say, three of those four and two of the three road games they would head into the Big East Tournament in trouble.

Losing five of the final eight would leave WVU at 18-12, at 8-8 in the Big East and probably in need of at least one victory in the Big East Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.

Admittedly, this would seem to be a Doomsday scenario and not one likely to happen, but it is going to take a number of steps forward by the Mountaineers to keep it — or worse — from happening.

Playing offense the way the West Virginia has been playing it doesn’t lend much confidence.

West Virginia has been unable to score 60 points in four of its last five games. There are expectations that Dana Holgorsen’s football offense may be able to score that many points.

Casey Mitchell, the team’s leading scorer, was completely out whack after returning from a three-game suspension and gave off body language that seemed to scream he wasn’t thrilled sitting on the bench for much of the Villanova game.

Mitchell is no guarantee to offer any respite to the shooting woes, missing all three against Villanova and in the two games before suspension making just 11 of 36 shots, meaning he’s shooting less than 30 percent in his last four games.

Then there is Truck Bryant, the point guard, who scored a career high 25 points against Marquette on New Year’s Day and has since scored a grand total of 78 points in nine games, an average of 8.7 points a game while shooting 23 percent.

The problem has been that no one has really been consistent. Guard Joe Mazzulla, given a chance to step forward offensively in Mitchell’s absence, had games of 18, 16, 4 and 0.

The truth is that the only dependable offense has come from Kevin Jones and John Flowers and neither of those are lights out, “get on my back and I’ll carry you to victory” shooters.

What’s more, with the Mountaineers shorthanded and playing just eight players, there have been some suggestion they are wearing down, a suggestion Huggins denied after the game in Philadelphia, saying:

"They play a hundred of them in the NBA against the best athletes in the world,'' Huggins said. "A hundred of them. They seem to keep playing. We're fine. We've just got to make some shots.''

While it is true that the NBA guys “a hundred of them”, they don’t practice the way Huggins’ practices his teams.

The reason to worry about fatigue is that WVU has been getting shots, good shots at times. They haven’t made them and the failure to make shots that normally are made late in the season often is fatigue.

"It wasn't the offense we were upset with," forward Kevin Jones said to the Charleston Daily Mail. "We were upset we weren't capitalizing on open shots. We got some and we didn't make any of them."

It doesn’t make sense that the shots will start falling against Pitt, a team that stands second in fewest points allowed in Big East.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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