West Virginia kicks off a weekend jam-packed with great sports with a twelve noon tipoff at #12 Villanova. After this one, it's a quick turnaround before #2 Pittsburgh comes calling at the Coliseum Monday night. These two games represent one of the toughest stretches on the schedule, and how the Mountaineers react may determine how well the rest of the season unfolds for the Blue and Gold. The major storylines this afternoon:
- The return of Casey Mitchell. The WV Gazette is reporting that the Mountaineers' leading scorer made the trip to Philadelphia, while it's still unclear whether he'll play or not. If Mitchell does see the court, it returns one of the team's best scorers to the floor while potentially upsetting the chemistry that has been created over the last three games. I expect Mitchell to play, but to come of the bench. The short-handed edition of the Mountaineers made great strides over the last three games. The short bench situation forced them to play smarter on both ends of the floor, and they responded. Smart play is of the essence this afternoon if the Mountaineers hope to sniff a victory.
- Clamping down in the back court. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will present plenty of problems for the Mountaineer guards. Joe Mazzulla just can't guard both of them. John Flowers may draw Stokes, or he may mark Antonio Pena. Wherever the Mountaineers best defenders may find themselves on the court, Villanova will still have weapons that they can't address. Keeping Villanova in a grinding halfcourt game will go a long way towards helping the Mountaineers chances. If Fisher and Stokes dictate the tempo, then it's going to be a long afternoon.
- The Mountaineers must keep their balance. Mitchell's return could force a shift in the multi-dimensional approach to offense the squad has taken the last few games. This could only do bad thing for the 'Eers. West Virginia needs to see four or five players score ten points, instead of one guy gunning for thirty. As long as Cam Thoroughman, Deniz Kilicli, John Flowers and Kevin Jones have active roles down low, things will be looking good. If it turns into the Truck and Casey jacking up threes show... well, bad things man.
- The numbers say... this one is huge. 'Nova and West Virginia are both a part of a nine team logjam in the middle of the conference. West Virginia should still be in a stable tournament-bound position even if they drop this one and the Backyard Brawl, but things would be looking iffy. Quite simply, this is a great opportunity for the Mountaineers to cement themselves in the upper half of the conference.