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West Virginia Vs. Syracuse: Mountaineers' Have Valentines Day Date With Orange In Dome

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!  Tonight, in lieu of a date with the ladyfriend, I'll be watching a Big East battle that (I hope) will make me fall in love with the Mountaineers all over again!  Here's what's on my mind as I prepare for Big Monday in the Dome:

  • The Gauntlet Awaits.  Nothing has been easy about this season for the Mountaineers, but nothing can compare to the brutal stretch run that awaits them in the Big East.  Five of the Mountaineers' last six are against top 20 teams, starting with tonight's date with the Orange.  West Virginia is sitting at 16-8 overall and 7-5 in conference play, with 6 games left before the Big East tournament.  Things that jump out immediately are that it seems like that magic plateau of 10 conference wins and 20 overall wins will be hard to get too.  WVU should handle Rutgers at the RAC, but otherwise, there really aren't any games left on the schedule that they will be favored to win.  A win tonight against a slumping Syracuse team will go a long way towards making a decent record achievable.  After that, it looks less and less likely.  This team will still probably slide into the Big Dance on Huggins' star power alone, but having the losses to Miami and Marshall back would make things a lot simpler.
  • That Beatable Zone.  To me, I hardly know why teams play the 2-3.  This zone is really, really easy to beat, or at least it seems that way.  Just shoot lights-out from downtown, or create good interior looks by passing through the free throw lane extended, and points come easy.  Unfortunately for Mountaineer fans, this team is good at neither of those things.  The the tendency to jack up ill-advised threes will rear its head tonight, and if those shots don't go in, it could be a long night.  The keys to success for the 'Eers are the play of Cam Thoroughman and Kevin Jones.  Thoroughman is a deceptively good passer, and if he can distribute from the top of the key, Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers could get some good looks down low.  The same goes for Jones, who also adds a top-of-the-key jumper to the equation, should Syracuse choose not to collapse on him.  I'm saying it right now: the Mountaineers just can't win tonight without good passing from Cam and Jones.
  • Keep Passing The Ball! West Virginia put together it's best game of the year distributing the ball against DePaul this past weekend.  Problem is that it's hard to tell how representative that is of progress, since the Blue Demons are just so terrible.  Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla each finished that game with a six-pack of assists, and that kind of heady play will be needed tonight.  The Orange are slumping hard but, to me, that actually makes them much more dangerous.  I don't think losing at home will even be an option for Boehiem's bunch, so I expect a hard fought match-up.

I'll be on the couch with the rest of you.  Check back to SBNation Pittsburgh for half-time and post-game updates.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.