Whew! A tough win in at home, and now the Mountaineers have a victory against a top ten opponant. That will surely come in handy on Selection Sunday after braving the brutal gaulet that will be the Big East. Nothing about today's game was pretty. The Mountaineers turned the ball over so much in the first half that, when University Police came into my section the person seated next to me remarked, "They're looking for Truck Bryant, he's been giving away University property all day." It was a decent assesment. All in all, the things I was thinking as I walked back out into the cold, with a victory:
- C'mon students, don't rush the court. Seriously. The Mountaineers were in the Final Four last year. Act like you've been there before. This Purdue team was good, but not that good. No Robbie Hummell and an inflated ranking mean: stay in your seats at the end of the game. There are much better teams coming to Morgantown in the next six weeks, let's act like we expect a Mountaineer victory.
- You can't stop JuJuan Johnson. Huggy used a rotation of guys to defend him tonight, and all it really did was slow him down. Cam Thoroughman seemed the most effective, bothering Johnson even when he didn't have the ball. Deniz Kilicli also had an admirable turn. He seemed most effective at going straight up in his face without fouling, but it didn't do much good. Needless to say, Johnson's as good as they come and to grit out a victory despite giving him 26 and 7 is an impressive feat. Much of the why that was possible was that John Flowers held E'Twaun Moore below his average and made Purdue a one man team. The defense, at the end of the day, can be pretty good when they're focused. Purdue is a great screening basketball team, few others will make the 'Eers work as hard off the ball as they had to do this afternoon.
- The offense continues to be an enigma. To be fair, Mountaineers were getting mugged every time they tried to cut without the basketball. This just made them stand around. The most egregious example being Kevin Jones 5 second violation while a stagnant Casey Mitchell just decided not to take either of his available cuts. Eventually things found their rhythm, but on one decisive possession under two minutes, Huggins had to take two timeouts in order to get a decent play run. Whatever it takes, I guess.
- This team still has a long way to go, but I'd like to see them in the Top 25 tomorrow and I think they'll be there. The definition of a trap game is on the schedule for Wednesday in Charleston against the Herd. I expect Huggs to get his licks in in the interim, and hopefully this team will come out like it did against Providence. It's pretty much the last gimme left on the schedule. After that, it's a tough path to twenty wins with eight o the last fourteen games against top twenty competition.
- Deniz Kilicli continues to grow as both an offensive and defensive basketball player. He had eight points, and a couple of them came at key points. That said, his biggest leap came on defense today. He didn't get completely lost as he marked one of the best in the country. Danny Jennings got the start but ended up only getting five minutes of court time due to his own defensive deficiencies. Kilicli made strides today. If he can be more decisive on offense, he could turn into a real asset as the season wears on.
- Turnovers killed the Mountaineers today, and the fact they had a halftime lead is a near miracle. With fourteen in the first half, it could have been over at that point. The guard play has to get figured out. Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant played long stretches together, often with Casey Mitchell as the third guard. Mitchell was completely ineffective getting open without the basketball and only found a couple of open looks all day. Either way, the way the ball was loosely tossed around all day says that this team still has a long way to go when it comes to getting good looks.
All in all, a great afternoon to be a Mountaineer. I'll be back Wednesday with a look at the Capital Classic in Charleston.