Puerto Rico Tip-Off: West Virginia Vs. Davidson, Mountaineers Down Wildcats, 84-70

WVU kicks off the 2010-11 men's basketball season in earnest as it travels to Puerto Rico for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Mountaineers square off against a field loaded with talent, including North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Nebraska and Davidson.

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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: Thoughts On Today's Win

Well, I did manage to get some work done today.  Now that I'm back home and have processed today's win, here are the things that jumped out at me.

First off, Truck Bryant may be the Mountaineers' most important player, and he showed why today.  With 22 points, he matched his career high and he got it in every way.  He was pretty decent from the line, unlike the rest of his teammates.  From the field, he hit a pair of threes, but was at his best when he was pushing the ball into the interior of the defense.  A legitimate threat to score in the paint, Truck makes defenses react to him and that benefits all the Mountaineers on the floor. 

When the offense stagnated last season it was because of a lot of standing around holding the ball.  If Truck keeps things moving, the Mountaineers should score plenty of points.

At the two-guard, we got our fair share of good and bad.  Casey Mitchell got hot, which looked great, but also made his share of mental mistakes on the defensive end.  Dalton Pepper continues to improve his ability to create off of the dribble, for better and for worse.  After beating the Wildcat defenders to the rim for an easy layup on one possession, he followed it up a minute later with the same move, which worked... until his dunk attempt thudded against the rim resulting in a run-out for Davidson.  In a lot of ways, that play perfectly summed up the game: beautiful start, ugly, ugly finish.

While the guard play leaves me feeling optimistic, the forwards were completely perplexing.  On one hand, Danny Jennings broke out in a big way, hauling down ten boards and contributing offensively as well.  On the other hand, Deniz Kilicli was a complete non-factor.  Amazingly he only played six minutes and managed to foul out.  Huggins in his postgame radio address seemed to assert that sometimes the Turk just doesn't really want to play.  Who knows, but he played like a guy who didn't want to appear in the scorebook, save for his five fouls. 

Kevin Jones had another sub-par shooting night and fouled out along with John Flowers, who also managed to leave the game with nearly ten minutes left.  It was a brutish and ugly game in the paint, and WVU came out on the better end of it, but it still seems perplexing because it was just that hard to watch.  Jennings and Jones combined to go 6 of 15 from the free throw line which meant every time they got there it was an adventure.  Luckily for the Mountaineers there's plenty of size to go around, and they could still matchup with the Davidson big men after the starting frontcourt all fouled out.

All in all, despite being brutally ugly with nearly seventy personal fouls resulting in nearly eight free throws, a win is a win is a win.  In this case, WVU stays perfect in the tournament and advances to a matchup with Vanderbilt tomorrow.  Take care of business and the Mountaineers are positioned to get three quality wins in this tournament, and return to Morgantown a better basketball team.

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Mountaineers Will Face Vanderbilt Friday Afternoon At 1:30pm

The Vanderbilt Commodores outlasted the Nebraska Cornhuskers this afternoon, 59-49. Vandy guard Josh Jenkins led all scorers with 22 points. The Commodores will face West Virginia tomorrow afternoon at 1:30pm. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

Tune in tomorrow to this Puerto Rico Tipoff Stream for more updates as the game happens.

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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: Second Half Notes, Mountaineers Outlast 'Cats 84-70

  • Dalton Pepper misses another lay-up.  The lead is twelve, with two and half left, and I'm a little nervous. 
  • A BIG three from Truck, lead pushed back to fifteen.
  • Kevin Jones steals the ball, and Mazzulla's fouled on the other end.  Looks like this game's going to degenerate into a free-throw contest very soon.
  • Mitchell headed to the line, though the 'Eers burned two thirds of the shot clock before he got fouled.  It's unclear whether McKillop has called off the dogs and thrown in the towel for Davidson, or if the Wildcats just aren't very good at fouling.  (Which is funny, since this game has run long due to 60-plus personal fouls being called.)
  • Nope.  They're fouling.  Truck's headed to the line. He hits his shots and has 19 now.  Definitely the player of the game.
  • Another player has fouled out.  Surprised?  You shouldn't be.  This time it's Kevin Jones, who heads to the bench after tallying 10 points on an afternoon where he didn't shoot very well at all.
  • The crowd is now chanting "One more foul".  Which makes no sense to me.  NO more fouls.  I have work to do, sheesh.
  • Game's over.  Thanks for reading.  Don't tell my boss.  I'll be back with a recap later tonight.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: Second Half Notes, Game Hotly Contested Down The Stretch

  • Deniz Kilicli picks up his fifth foul and is out of the game.  He was hardly on the court, so it's amazing he picked up that many.  He got a long talking to from Huggins as he went to the bench.  I imagine it went along the lines of, "Deniz, you just can't do that against good teams."
  • 54 fouls have been called.  I guess you could say there's been some pushing and shoving.
  • Dalton Pepper makes a strong move to the basket, and kisses it high off of the glass.  It's those kinds of moves that we'll need to see out of Pepper if he's going to become more than just a jump-shooter.
  •  Truck Bryant charges, and now he's got four fouls.  The whole team might foul out by the time we're done with this one.
  • Well, it's under five minutes and Davidson has cut the lead to eleven.  The last five minutes of this game will be a toughness test for the Mountaineers.
  • With Kilicli and Flowers fouled out, the Mountaineers aren't the same physical presence they were earlier in the game.
  • Pepper makes the same move I just praised him for.  This time he tried to dunk it....unsuccessfully.  Davidson hits their first three, and the lead is cut to ten.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: Second Half Notes, Mountaineers Regain Control, Push Lead Back To 16

  • The announcers just explained the injury-free-throw-shooter rule.  It's bizarre. If Thoroughman had been bleeding, Huggins would've been able to pick the shooter.  Instead, Davidson Coach Bob McKillop picked Danny Jennings, who promptly missed both.  Strange rule.  Not really sure whether or not it's good or not.  Thoroughman is icing his knee, which has given him serious problems throughout his career.
  • Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant have spent a lot of time on the court together today.  I really like it.  It gives the Mountaineers a lot of playmaking ability, and it seems to make all the forwards play a little better.
  • Kevin Jones makes a nice block.  The defense doesn't seem to be switching s many screens as they did last season.  Could be due to a greater size disparity on the Mountaineer roster.
  • John Flowers fouls out with nearly nine minutes left in the game.  He finishes with 11 points, which is a tremendous offensive output for JFlow.
  • Kilicli gets pushed to the ground by a Davidson player while vying for a rebound.  Huggins can't like that.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: Second Half Notes, Mountaineers Stumble, Let Wildcats Back In Game

  • Remember when I told you Deniz Kilicli was in the game?  Well he just picked up his third foul on a cheap push on the offensive end.  He won't be in the game for long, if I know Huggins....
  • Cam Thoroughman now in for Kilicli, as anticipated. 
  • The Mountaineer's offense seems to be sputtering a little bit, turning the ball over at every chance through a hodge-podge mix of pushing, charging and kicking the ball out of bounds.
  • Thoroughman fouls Clint Mann, who responds by cutting the WVU lead to ten from the charity stripe.
  • Dalton Pepper nails a three from the corner, and the Mounties rattle off five straight points to push the lead back to fifteen.
  • The Wildcats are 0-15 from three point range.  If they hit even a small percentage of those shots, this is a whole different basketball game.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: Second Half Notes, Mountaineers Working Hard Inside

  • Out of halftime, the Mountaineers go high-low and get Kevin Jones and easy bucket down low, he now has 10 points.  The next time down the court they try the same thing for John Flowers and Dan Jennings, who got fouled and went to the line.  WVU is obviously focused on establishing an inside presence.
  • Deniz Kilicli starts the second half on the bench, where he spent most of the first half.  He must've committed some other cardinal sin besides just picking up two fouls.
  •  Davidson fans cheer wildly when the Wildcats finally get an offensive rebound.  Their team responds by tossing up an airball from two feet.
  • Jennings stuffs one home off of another nice inbounds play.  He's been one of the bright spots in this game, and probably the key reason why Kilicli hasn't gotten back on the floor.  He's only got six points, but he already has eight boards, and you've gotta like that!
  • Jennings picks up a foul pushing off.  Kilicli finally back in the game.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: First Half Notes, Halftime

  • Still hard to see what Cam did to warrant his T.  Probably just running his mouth, because the contact that we saw on the replay hardly justified a technical foul.
  • Jennings gets fouled while hauling in an offensive rebound which he out-jumped the Davidson player for, tipped it high in the air, then reigned it in.  Really, a nice move which shows the kind of tenacious rebounding that Jennings was brought to campus for.  Hit both of his free throws, too.
  • Mitchell bricks a three and then turns the ball over on back-to-back possesions.  Huggins has a seat for him, and Pepper's back in the game.
  • Flowers picks up an offensive foul while trying to block out.  The Mountaineers begin to look sloppy, like they're playing with less focus than earlier.
  • Case in point: four players touch the ball on a fast break but mostly out of ineptitude.  Thankfully a following John Flowers is there to jam in Pepper's weak lay-up attempt. One or two guys should have been able to get that done.
  • The first half MVP is clearly Truck Bryant.  He's played great so far in all aspects of the game.  Everyone has had their moments, except for Kilicli who picked up his two fouls early and never got off of the bench after that.
  • At the Half: West Virginia 42, Davidson 29
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: First Half Notes, Under Four Timeout

  • Mitchell hits both of his free throws, officially the first good thing he's done all game.
  • West gets burned.  Man to man defense is not his strong suit.  Hit enough threes though, and we'll ignore it. 
  • Mitchell hits a three.  I guess he heard what I said about the him at the top of this post.  Follows that up by draining another, scoring eight points in the last two minutes.  That's what the Mountaineers need out of Mitchell, scoring and scoring enough to mitigate his weaknesses, namely defense. 
  • Davidson, now down fourteen, takes a timeout to stop the bleeding.
  • Nothing I like typing more than: Shot blocked by Flowers.
  • Truck to the rack.  Rolls around the rim and drops.  Truck with 11 first half points, and obviously on the look-out for more as he just took an opening and went with it.
  • Cam Thoroughman gets a technical foul.  It's not obvious what it was for, but I imagine it was just for playing like Cam Thoroughman.
  • WVU 38, Davidson 22.  Mountaineers in control.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: First Half Notes, Under Eight Timeout

  • Pepper earns a spot next to Huggins with a weak foul which does nothing but give Davidson an easy point.
  • Another play designed to get Flowers the ball on the blocks.  I like it!  He's shoved from behind and actually hits both of his free throws!  A play designed for Flowers is a great thing, to have him hit both shots... well that's just gravy.
  • Thoroughman grabs a board, then gets stuffed and turns the ball over.  In a way, WVU needs Cam to be their best scrapper.  He knows that's WVhis role, obviously.
  • Truck and Mazzulla on the court together.  Huggins goes to a 2-3 zone, and Mazzulla picks up a charge on the blocks.  One has to think the zone is so Huggins can keep both his point guards on the court, but out of foul trouble.
  • Jennings skies through the lane and picks up the foul.  If he'd landed the dunk, it would have been immediately on SportsCenter.  I knew Jennings was a bruiser, but didn't know he had that kind of athleticism.  This could be a sign of great things to come.
  • Bryant hits a falling down fade in the lane.  Nine points in only about six minutes of play.  Truck's ability to put the ball in the basket may be the most important facet of this year's offensive scheme.
  • JFlow hits a three.  His shooting touch seems much improved this season from last.
  • Mitchell and West back in the game, with Truck at the point and Jennings and Jones on the blocks.
  • Mitchell gets fouled in the lane, and will be shooting free throws when we return.
  • WVU 26, Davidson 16 - Mountaineers beginning to control the game on both ends by crashing the boards and going hard to the basket, aka Bob Huggins Basketball.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: First Half Notes, Under Twelve Timeout

  • After being the best player on the court in the first five minutes, Truck Bryant is subbed out in favor of Joe Mazzulla.
  • Flowers scores an easy bucket on an inbounds play designed to do just that.  It's good to see, since executing and defending in-bounds situations was one of the Mountaineer's weaknesses last season.
  • Davidson takes a timeout just before the clock crosses the 12-minute mark.  This segment of the first hald has been slow and ugly, this contributes to that.
  • Kilicli picks up two quick fouls.  He's got to work on his lateral quickness or these "hip-check" fouls are going to happen quite often.  Kevin Jones immediately back into the game.
  • Mazzulla makes a gorgeous pivot move on the block and flips the ball to Kevin Jones who comes crashing down the lane to pick up the bucket and the foul.  Missed his free throw.
  • Mazzulla follows that up by nearly throwing it into the stands.  Jones recovers, flips the ball to Pepper who immediately travels.
  • WVU 18, Davidson 11.  Much uglier than the first segment of the game.
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West Virginia Vs. Davidson: First Half Notes, Under Sixteen

  • Mountaineers in their home whites.  Mitchell starts again at the two-guard.  Jones, Bryant, Kilicli and Flowers round out the starting lineup.
  • Huggins complained on the radio pre-game show that the rims in Puerto Rico were as tight as he'd seen.  Early shots bouncing in and out seem to reinforce that.
  • Kilicli comes out of the game after under-two minutes of play.  The insertion of Jennings seems to say that Huggs was unhappy with his rebounding effort. Huggs also pulls Mitchell early, in favor of Jonnie West
  • Truck scores twice early, drawing fouls both times.  He missed on his second trip to the stripe.
  • Truck jumps a passing lane and goes to the rim.  He has 7 of WVU's first nine points.
  • Jonnie West hit a nice fade away three, doing exactly what he was put into the game to do.  He follows that high-degree-of-difficulty shot by missing his next one, this time from a foot and half.  Maybe Huggs was right about those rims.  Almost every shot is rattling around.  What's John Sanders to say "bending, bending, bending..." when we need him.
  • WVU 12, Davidson 8
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Puerto Rico Tip-Off: West Virginia Vs. Davidson, Mountaineers Dive Into 2010-11 Season With 3 Games In 4 Days

It's been a slow build so far for the 2010-11 West Virginia University men's basketball squad. With one exhibition game, and one regular season game under its belt, there is still a lot to be learned about this Mountaineer team. Starting this morning at 11:30am, the Mountaineers will face their first real test as they hope to take home the crown from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off by winning three games in four days.

Today's match-up is against the Davidson Wildcats. WVU lost to Davidson two years ago at Madison Square Garden when the Wildcats were led by all-world guard Stefan Curry. Curry's departed the Davidson team, and with him went any hope of national relevance. The Wildcats finished 16-15 last season, and didn't participate in any post-season tournaments. Last season's leading scorers Jake Cohen, a 6-foot-10 forward, and JP Kuhlman, a 6-foot-4 guard, both return as sophomores to lead this year's squad. The Wildcats are big, but inexperienced. While they shouldn't present any glaring match-up problems for the Mountaineers, they won't wilt at the sight of Big East muscle. What the Mountaineers have in spades is experience. I expect WVU to stay composed throughout and play their brand of slow, defensive basketball. Young teams, like Davidson, tend to get frustrated when their offense gets disrupted. If that can turn into defensive stops for the Blue and Gold, then this game should stay low-scoring, which always favors the 'Eers.

If WVU wins this afternoon, they face the winner of the Nebraska-Vanderbilt game that immediately follows WVU's game. Odds are the Commodores from Vanderbilt will advance, and WVU will face them on Friday morning. Vanderbilt went 24-9 last season, and earned an NCAA tournament berth. Leading scorer Jermaine Beal has departed from Nashville, but the Commodores return a squad laden with depth and experience, which could prove the season's first real test for WVU. Should WVU win its first two games, the championship would be played against the winner from the other side of the field, which could be North Carolina, Minnesota, Western Kentucky or Hofstra. Though it's likely the Tar Heels will emerge, it's too soon to tell. Everyone all across the Appalachian mountains is rooting for a Bob Huggins-Roy Williams showdown this Sunday, and I know that's what I want to see.

As for the Mountaineers themselves, there still are a lot of kinks to be worked out, and I'll be watching for a similar list of things as from the season opener last weekend. I'm most fascinated by the battle for minutes at the two guard spot. Both Jonnie West and Casey Mitchell have gotten white-hot at moments in the young season, and Dalton Pepper shows that he's developed a more well rounded game. While I anticipate Huggs to ride the hot hand, right now I have no idea who that might be. It keeps it interesting.

I'm also interested in seeing how John Flowers can blossom into a shutdown defender. He was tenacious last weekend against Oakland, tallying seven blocks and a steal, while generally playing like Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four. I'm sure that guy would be a hell of a shot-blocker too. From the rest of the forwards, I'd like to see improved defense and ball-handling out of Deniz Kilicli, and I'd like to get Kevin Jones involved. By all accounts, Jones is this team's best player and his ho-hum performance can mostly be attributed to no plays being run specifically for him. While his consistency is to be applauded, I would love to see Jones break out in Puerto Rico and firmly plant his name among the nation's elite players.

All in all, I fully expect a Mountaineer victory this afternoon. The 11:30am tip-off in the middle of the work week makes it hard for many people to catch this game. If I follow up in the afternoon with a game recap, don't tell my boss. I was working all afternoon. I swear. 

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