The Mountaineers are having a rough go of it right now. They've lost three of their last five, including the last two: a lopsided loss at Villanova and a disappointing home loss in the Backyard Brawl. That which cures what ails ye' is a home date with DePaul. The Blue Demons, come calling at the Coliseum at 4pm today. Here's what's on the line:
The Mountaineers need this win, and will probably get it. The Big East is brutal, and the 'Eers have lost more games in the last month than they did in the entire first two months of the season. Things don't get any easier. Five of the Mountaineers' last seven games are against top fifteen teams. Sitting at 15-8, 6-5 in conference, the Mountaineers have a huge mountain to climb to get to the magical 20-win plateau. This team's RPI is still in the Top 20, thanks to the 4th toughest schedule in the country. Problem is, the way they're playing right now, this year has "bubble team" written all over it. Luckily DePaul is winless in conference, and is generally inept with only 6 wins this season. The bad news? West Virginia squeaked by the Blue Demons for a two point win in their last meeting on January 4th.
- The continuing enigma of the Turk. Deniz Kilicli had his finest offensive performance against Pitt, going 9-13 from the field for a career high 19 points. Problem is, in 26 minutes of play, he only grabbed two boards. On defense, the Pitt big men simply picked him into oblivion, and Kilicli was consistently out of place and getting beaten like a drum. The Mountaineers were desperate for points, so he stayed on the floor, but it wasn't pretty. His offensive game is really beginning to come together and if he can put together the rebounding and the defense down the stretch, he could be a force. That said, if he can't... he may do more harm than good. DePaul has some serviceable big men, but today's game could give the big guy a big boost.
The Truck's in a ditch. Darryl Bryant has been in a massive shooting slump for a month, and it's causing the entire offense to stall out. It's been a long month for Bryant, who hasn't made three baskets in a game since Purdue came to town. He also had a game where he's made half of his field goals since New Year's Day. Truck and Joe Mazzulla had seemed to find some sort of rhythm in the backcourt together during Casey Mitchell's suspension. However, since Mitchell's returned, and the competition stiffened, the offense has struggled to score and Truck's done more harm than good. He's got to break out of this funk for the Mountaineers finish this season strong.
- The Pepper/Mitchell Debate. While Mitchell was suspended, Dalton Pepper got some extended minutes and seemed to be making great progress. Since Mitchell's returned, Pepper's been more exposed to Bob Huggins' quick hook, and his confidence seems to be slipping. Mitchell hasn't contributed at all, and seems to just be going through the motions, looking for a quick shot, and not much else. I think the level of success the Mountaineers have today, and the rest of the season, will hinge on getting some contribution from this tandem. It could be Pepper one night and Mitchell the next, but this Mountaineer team is thirsty for offense and one of these guys has to step up and provide some.