The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 11, 2011

Matchups key as Mountaineers move on

MORGANTOWN — Somehow, you kind of don’t believe that anyone on the West Virginia University basketball traveling party took a look at the Coliseum as they approached it on Thursday after losing their first – and only – game in the Big East Tournament to Marquette and proclaimed:

“Home, sweet home. Ain’t it great to be home?”

The Mountaineers’ effort to defend their Big East championship lasted just as long as top-seeded Pitt’s effort to replace them, which takes us to a point in time where we all must be honest with ourselves.

As good as the Big East is – and no one argues that it isn’t the best league this side of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – even its best can be beaten … and in that there is a lesson.

Each team was one and done and the reason wasn’t that they met better teams; they just were victimized by matchups. Both West Virginia and Pitt have weaknesses that can be exploited, so to think that either will waltz into or through the NCAA is absurd.

It doesn’t come easily.

Pitt, of course, was expected to carry the torch for the Big East, but Connecticut had the hot hand, maybe even the best player in Kemba Walker, although Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs was something rather spectacular himself, and the mighty fell.

West Virginia’s loss to Marquette was less unexpected, considering they had lost to them on New Year’s morning in Milwaukee, but it carried a lesson with it, one that we all ought to heed.

The Mountaineers are a good team but need the proper matchup to advance. If they get a good draw in the NCAA, facing teams that are not necessarily quick and creative, they can win. If they don’t have to outscore the other team, but rather than can win on defense, rebounding and coaching, they can advance.

Final Four?

That seems a bit much, for there are just too many shortcomings.

It is, in the wake of that loss, time to look into the shortcomings.

The first is the ability to score. If WVU needs 65 or more points to win, it has a big problem.

The reason was seen in the first half of the Marquette game as compared to the second half. In the first half, Marquette allowed the Mountaineers to run the plays they wanted and they got Kevin Jones his shots and he was en fuego, as they say.

What Kevin Jones doesn’t do, however, is create his own shots. It’s not a deficiency. It’s just a truism.

If the opponent is willing to commit help to defend him, he can’t get his shots, as evidenced by scoring 13 first-half points and then getting off only three second-half shots, making none of them.

“I kind of rushed a couple of shots and wasn’t playing the way I did in the first half,” Jones said after the game. “They had a lot of help.”

Now here’s the thing. If Casey Mitchell and Deniz Kilicli are in the game, it’s hard to give help defense on K.J.

There are certain teams where coach Bob Huggins can get away with playing Mitchell and Kilicli, but when he has to go with his best defense or go with a zone, he can’t use them.

In truth, Huggins has almost a two-platoon basketball team. When he wants to use his 1-3-1 zone, for example, he has to have guard Dalton Pepper in the game. If Pepper’s in, that lessens the offensive effectiveness at the moment.

The truth is, Huggins doesn’t have a “best” five. It has turned this season into a real coaching challenge, one of the toughest he’s ever faced because he is kind of stuck with a team filled with specialist.

Cam Thoroughman provides toughness, defense and rebounding, can pass well but isn’t a scorer.

He is Kilicli’s alter-ego.

If Huggins had his druthers, he’d alternate Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant, his two point guards, but he can’t do that because he doesn’t have the defense out of Mitchell. The result of that was that Mazzulla, as tough and gritty as he is, is wearing down.

He and Jones played 40 minutes against Marquette because Huggins could not afford to have them out of there, especially with John Flowers in foul trouble.

“We had a bad night. We knew we didn’t do what we were supposed to do. That’s why we lost,” Thoroughman said.

Now the Mountaineers have time to regroup, wait for Sunday’s NCAA draw and then turn up the heat again.

“It will stick with us for a couple of days,” Thoroughman said of the Marquette defeat. “When we get back in the gym, start working and preparing for someone else, we’ll be all right. You lose in the Big East Tournament you still have something to look forward to. You lose in the NCAA Tournament it’s the last game of my college career.”

NOTES: WVU wide receiver coach Lonnie Galloway is leaving the program to take a similar job at Wake Forest to be closer to his family. ... No replacement yet and it could be the Mountaineers will have to go through spring without filling the position ... The last three WVU football coaches were in New York for the tournament — Bill Stewart, Dana Holgorsen and, yes, Rich Rodriguez, who spent some time with his former assistant, Butch Jones, now Cincinnati’s head coach.

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

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