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2011 Big East Tournament: Mountaineers Begin Title Defense Against Golden Eagles

All of a sudden, just like that, it's March again. West Virginia's 2010 run to the the Big East Championship and the Final Four was amazing. A year later, last March's achievements seem like something I dreamed, and I'm still not totally sure it actually happened. Since then, the Mountaineers have had an up and down season filled with mighty struggles, that have seen players injured, suspended, and kicked off the team. Nothing has been easy. Miraculously, just as the calendar turns to March, the Mountaineers are playing their best basketball, winning four out of the last five. Today they open Big East Tournament their Big East Championship defense against the Marquette Golden Eagles. Here's what's worth watching tonight, if you can stay up late enough:

  • The golden touch of Marquette. No team wowed crowds yesterday like the Marquette Golden Eagles. Their game with Providence was over as it began, when Marquette jumped out to a 17 point lead they would never relinquish. Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom led the way yesterday, and will be the two players who will  draw the focus of the Mountaineers' best defenders, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla. Problem is, foul trouble sank Flowers in the team's only meeting this season, a five-point victory back on January 1. In that game, Jae Crowder pushed around Mountaineer forwards and Bob Huggins even went zone to try to stop the bleeding. I think today's Mountaineers are much better than they were back on January 1, so I don't expect any lapses on defense tonight. 
  • It's Joey Mazz time. In the past, Joe Mazzulla has put the Mountaineers on his back and beaten much better teams than Marquette. I get the feeling that it is not lost on him that these are the last games he'll ever get to play. I'm expecting him to do things that we've never seen him do over the next couple of weeks. As Mazzulla goes, go the Mountaineers in this postseason. He doesn't need to score points by the bunch, but he does need to keep the offense running and jam up the opposition defensively. If he plays as well as we know he can, the 'Eers will cruise past Marquette and more than a few more teams this postseason.
  • JFlow's snub. John Flowers was snubbed for the Big East's defensive player of the year award. I'm not going to say that Rick Jackson didn't deserve the award, but I will say that he never actually had to guard anybody. Flowers is WVU's best defensive player, and has shut down a long list of good players so far this season. His snub will have him playing energized, and I expect him to be a force on defense tonight, and throughout the rest of tournament. Flowers knows his job is to square up to the other team's best player, and to shut him down. He'll do that, and more.
  • Run offense, take good shots. Those two things have been hard for the Mountaineers to do this season. The offense will be disrupted by Marquette's length tonight, and the Eagles will switch everything and try to trap whenever possible. Now, trapping and switching often leave an offensive player wide open, but then it's still on his teammates to find him. West Virginia has struggled with double teams all season, and finding the open man has been out of the question. This leads to forced shots, which lead to transition buckets going the other way. The Mountaineers absolutely need to focus on getting good looks, and running productive sets. If WVU can post up Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli all night, then they should roll to victory. If they get baited into turnovers and ill-advised jumpers, than the Eagles will be a hard team to contend with.

Check back at SBNation Pittsburgh for halftime and post-game updates...

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