The Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to Morgantown as the second place team in the Big East to square off with a Mountaineer team desperate for a win. While most around the Mountaineers have had them pegged as a tournament team all season, that certainty had been cast into doubt as the 'Eers have dropped 3 of their last 4. What I'm watching from my perch in section 18:
The numbers game. The 'Eers need to win two of their last five to finish at .500 in conference play. Their road dates are at Pitt and Rutgers, which looks like a split. Winning one more at home will be a bear of a task with UConn, Louisville and today's match-up against the Irish, arguably the hottest team in the conference. It would calm a lot of nerves to get a win today. It's not the end of the road if the 'Eers lose, there are no bad losses in conference, but the situation turns significantly more dire. RPI and Strength of Schedule are in the Mountaineers' favor, so a tournament trip still looks probable, but I get really nervous when I'm watching a team that's played as poorly as the Mountaineers have over the last couple of weeks.
- The guards. Casey Mitchell dropped 7 threes on the Orange in the 'Eers last time on the court. His shooting was quite literally the only thing that kept Big Monday competetive. West Virginia needs to see more consistent scoring out of Mitchell, and couple that with good decision making from Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. It's completely possible all three play great today, though it's more likely that at least two of them struggle mightily. One of those two will draw the task of guarding Tim Abromaitis, presuming John Flowers draws Ben Hansbrough. West Virginia's perimeter defense is more than suspect at times, and the long-bombing Irish could take advantage.
- The big men. Kevin Jones seems lost. Cam Thoroughman had his worst game of the year against Syracuse. Deniz Kilicli was double teamed, and didn't know what to do, something sure to continue down the stretch. John Flowers has played well, as usual, but he just doesn't have the skill set to light it up each and every night. To beat the Irish, Flowers and Jones will need to produce points, while Kilicli and Throughman will need to create good looks for themselves and their teammates. If neither of those things happen, the Irish could roll over the Mountaineers with ease.
- The bounces. A lot of the Mountaineers shots have rattled out lately, which I hope will just correct itself as the guys keep shooting. Against Syracuse, simple tasks like passing, rebounding and dribbling led to a litany of kicked balls and turnovers. If the 'Eers can keep simple mistakes to a minimum, and the ball stops bouncing out, then this one will be competitive. If it isn't, it's crisis time in Morgantown.