Another weekend, another early tip-off for the Mountaineers. This time, it's an 11:00 am tip-off as the 'Eers face the Georgetown Hoyas in Washington, DC at the Verizon Center. The Hoyas are coming off a loss at St. John's, while the Mountaineers squeaked by DePaul for their first Big East win Tuesday. Both teams have something to prove and seem to be on a collision course. The winner of this game will climb back to .500 in the Big East, while the loser will drop to 1-3 and have a deep hole to dig themselves out of. The Hoyas are led by the Big East's leading scorer, Austin Freeman, and despite Tuesday's loss, are the No. 1 team in the RPI. The Mountaineers are ranked in the Top 20 in the RPI as well, but they just haven't played like they deserve such a lofty ranking. A good showing on the road at Georgetown would go a long way to change that.
I'm extremely excited for this matchup, if only because I'm making the trip to root on the 'Eers in person, weather permitting. Here's what I'll be watching for from my perch in section 117:
- The emergence of Deniz Kilicli. No Mountaineer has been as eagerly anticipated as Kilicli. Perhaps it had to do with his 20-game suspension to open his freshman year, but folks were pumped up last season. In his debut performance he hit his first three shots and Mountaineer Nation was convinced a star was born. Fast-forward to this season, and Kilicli has provided some of the team's most frustrating moments, looking lost on offense and helpless on defense. Slowly but surely, though, the scoring power we'd hoped for has emerged, and Kilicli has filled the scorebook for 14 points (his career-best) in each of the last two games. More importantly, he seems to know what to do with the ball when he gets it, something that wasn't the case earlier this season. The Mountaineers need points, and the Turk can get them if he plays smart. Right now he's playing as well as we've seen him, here's hoping that continues.
Can the Mountaineers
stopcontend with Austin Freeman. I decided the notion of the Mountaineers "shutting down" the conference's most prolific scorer seemed a little far-fetched. I'd be happy with anything less than a 40-minute highlight reel. The truth is, there's nobody else on the Hoyas that scares me quite like Freeman so the key to this game is containing him. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers have made opposing guards look superhuman this season, and it could be a long afternoon. West Virginia implemented a 2-3 with some success against Marquette, but against DePaul it didn't seem to work so well. It may be Bob Huggins' only option, because outside of Joe Mazzulla (and possibly John Flowers, but he's been plagued by foul trouble) I don't know if the 'Eers have anyone who can even get in Freeman's way.
- What's up with the WVU guards? If the Mountaineers had held their fourteen point second half lead against DePaul, there would be considerably less worry in Morgantown. Instead, that lead was frittered away to two, giving the Blue Demons a shot at a game-winner at the end of regulation. That collapse was spurred on by awful play down the stretch from point guards Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. Bryant seemed to have found his scoring touch which was desperately needed by the Mountaineers. However, after a hot streak early in the second half everything fell apart for Truck leading to a series of ill-advised shots and turnovers. More frighteningly, it appeared that Joe Mazzulla spent the second half trying to do his best Bryant imitation by driving the lane with no apparent options for once he got there. Simply put, the Mountaineers have to play smart on offense to win against anyone, let alone Georgetown. In order to do that, Bryant and Mazzulla have to lead the offense to consistently good possessions, something that has yet to happen this season.
- The numbers game. This game is so important, for so many reasons. A win would inject some energy into a Mountaineer team that's been hanging its head lately. More importantly, this is the third road game for the Mountaineers so far this season and win would push them 2-1 on the road. My old man likes to say that to succeed in conference you have to win 'em all at home, and split your road games. A third of the way through their road schedule, the Mountaineers will have a much improved shot at .500 away from the Coliseum with a win today.
Thanks for reading, enjoy the game folks, I'll be back on Sunday with my take on what went down in Washington.