After spending last week on the road in the midwest, dropping a heartbreaker in Louisville and whipping Bob Huggins' old employer, the Mountaineers are back in Morgantown tonight to square off with Jeremy Hazell and the Seton Hall Pirates. Here's what I'll be watching from section 53:
- Joe Mazzulla at the helm. Now that WVU is playing with its hands tied behind its back, Joe Mazzulla has stepped to the forefront to lead this team. The only thing I wonder about is where that's been all season. This is Joe's team now, and considering the guy led the Mountaineers to upsets over Duke in '07 and Kentucky in '09, I figure that's a good thing. His first half against Louisville was one of the best halves we've seen out of any Mountaineer all year. Though watching Siva's game-winner fall was heartbreaking, the new look Mountaineers made great strides against the Cards which they turned into a flat out dismantling of the Bearcats. As Joe goes, goes this team. If Joe can continue to create, score and defend, the Mountaineers could surprise some people.
- Fouls, or lack thereof. Oddly enough, it's taken the rotation shrinking to seven men to make the Mountaineers play smart. Whatever it takes, I say. Either way, keeping Herb Pope in check down low will the primary task at hand for the Mountaineer big men. If they can keep their heads, and not get tempted to reach in too often, then I think the 'Eers should be fine. The truth is, of all the teams on the schedule that WVU has to be afraid of, Seton Hall is not one of them. The Mountaineers should be able to handle their business with ease. Hell, they can even afford to let Hazell shoot it all night, the Pirates don't have many other players to help him out.
The development of the Turk. Deniz Kilicli continues to improve and show why he was one of the Mountaineers' most highly-touted recruits when he got to campus. The guy has a nose for scoring. His touch is surprising delicate for his stature, and his decision making continues to improve. With Casey Mitchell still suspended, the Mountaineers are thirsty for points. Kilicli should continue to provide them. In a lot of ways, when Kilicli can score, he makes it easier for Cam Thoroughman to just be Cam Thoroughman. With big men contributing to the scoring, Cam can continue to do what he does best, which is pick, rebound and pass.
- The Schedule Math. The number one rule of going to the tournament is this: win the games you should win. Seton Hall at home is one of those games. If the Mountaineers can pick up a W tonight, they will move to 6-3 in the conference. That's huge, because it means that no matter what, WVU will be above .500 in conference when DePaul comes to Coliseum on February 12th. In between? Dates with #12 Villanova and #2 Pitt. I fully expect WVU to win one of those two, but a win tonight doesn't make it a crisis if they don't.
I'm off to the Coliseum. I'll be back later tonight with a recap, and something about high school kids deciding to come to Morgantown....