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Oakland Vs. West Virginia: Thoughts On The Mountaineers' Opening Night Victory

Game one is in the books, and it was a relatively easy 95-71 victory against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The first eight minutes of the first half were hotly contested and the score was knotted at 14 early before the Mountaineers turned on the outside shooting and closed out the half on a 41-17 run. The game lacked intrigue in the second half as the Mountaineer offense sputtered and both teams seemed to go through the motions. Oakland is a talented team that played great defense and had a variety of offensive weapons to choose from, but once the Mountaineers stepped out to an extended lead their defense kept the Grizzlies so off-balance that they were never able to recover. The things that jumped out at me most were:

  • John Flowers!  Flowers had sixteen points, a career high. The scoring was nice, but the real impression Flowers made was on the defensive end of the court. JFlow swatted seven shots, hauled in five boards and made an acrobatic sideline steal.  Flowers will be counted on to fill the vacancy left by Devin Ebanks as the Mountaineers' resident stopper, and after his showing tonight he looks up to the task.  He was even tapped by Huggins to shoot free throws for Deniz Kilicli when Kilicli got poked in the eye and had to leave the court.  Considering the soap opera that has been Flowers at the line throughout his career, that's a huge vote of confidence on the part of Huggs.
  • Deep Shots Drop. In the first half, this team looked like a throwback to the John Beilein days draining nine of fourteen threes. It couldn't have happened at a better time, since at that early juncture, the Mountaineers were struggling mightily to get good looks.  The competition at shooting guard looks to be the most intriguing inter-squad drama early on in the season as Casey Mitchell, Jonnie West and Dalton Pepper all hit big threes early as each tried to make a case for more minutes.  Mitchell, who started the game, finished with 22 minutes, while West had 18 and Pepper 10.  Odds are Huggins will ride the hot hand all year, but the way the 'Eers shot early in tonight's game it might be hard to figure out who is hottest.
  • Joey Mazz Puts It On The Floor.  Namely, both his body and the rock. Joe Mazzulla seems fully recovered from the shoulder injury which has maligned him for the last two seasons.  While his defensive tenacity never waned, he seems to have finally returned to the offensive form he showed early in his career. Mazzulla finished with fifteen points, courtesy of five for six shooting from both the floor and the stripe.  All of his field goals came driving to the basket or wriggling free in a scrum. Last year Mazzulla was a key factor in the teams late season success, despite being a one-dimensional player.  If he can attack the basket like he did tonight, it will go a long way towards opening up opposing defenses. He led a three-guard tandem with West and Mitchell during the team's mid-first half shooting explosion which could be the lineup the Mountaineers employ this season when they want a small lineup on the floor.
  • The Turkish Enigma. Deniz Kilicli will be a major part of the things this team is going to try and do this year. Unfortunately, right now he's also the Mountaineers' most perplexing player. At moments, especially on the blocks, he looks utterly unstoppable. His touch on his hook-shot and turn around jumper is a thing to behold, considering it's coming from such a bullish and powerful player. However, at times he makes terrible decisions with the basketball, and you can be assured most times the ball goes inside to him it's not coming out.  Sometimes he seems to be forcing it, like tonight when he bricked a deep hook-shot from out past the foul line.  On the defensive end he had trouble keeping up with Benson and I wonder what will happen against some of the skilled big men in the Big East. Bob Huggins had them play some zone tonight to make up for it.

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