Well, first up, here's hoping those are the only mid-workday games until the NCAA's. I'll be a happier guy, but it's always fun to play hooky for a little while.
Looking back at today's tightly contested game, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, playing this sort of game early in the season against quality competition and playing to the buzzer can be good for a team. On the other hand, I think that West Virginia is the better team here and shouldn't have let this game get close at all. Bob Huggins can't be thrilled that his troops blew two big leads, though luckily for the guys in the locker room they did win the game.
Obviously, the player of the game today was Casey Mitchell. His thirty-one points were a career high and none were bigger than his three in the waning moments of the game. He had his share of mental lapses which led to three turnovers, but his offensive output made up for it in spades. Dalton Pepper's minutes took a big hit, and Jonnie West never even got in the game, so for the time being the two-guard rotation seems settled. That is, if Mitchell can consistently bring his A-game to the gym. Today we saw a guy who I am convinced can go for forty points, a feat that seemed unthinkable for a Mountaineer until Butler did it a two seasons ago. However, what we've also seen from Mitchell in his career is the ability to disappear. Lets hope that doesn't happen Sunday. If the TarHeels are the opposition, West Virginia's going to need some big shots.
Kevin Jones had his best game of the season, but that's still not saying much. KJ went for one of the quietest double-doubles ever, dropping in twelve points while hauling in eleven boards. The rebounding effort is a vast improvement, but his shooting touch is still off. So far this season Jones is shooting under forty percent, which is a far cry from the dead-eye shooting he's displayed in the past. Of all the Mountaineers, I'm the least worried about Jones because I think this is just a product of early-season basketball. This ship will right itself once the Mountaineers get into the meat of the season so there's nothing to worry about when it comes to number five.
Deniz Kilicli, on the other hand, continues to be the biggest engima in the gold and blue. This kid, who quite literally has limitless potential, all of a sudden doesn't seem like the sure-fire bet I would have told you he was before the season. Since getting to Puerto Rico, Kilicli has more fouls than points and for the most part, looks utterly lost. Today started auspiciously when he gave up an easy basket and picked up a stupid foul in the first ten seconds of the game. However, by the beginning of the second half he seemed to calm down and made a few good post moves and a few even better decisions to give up the ball. Of course, this hot streak was followed up by walking at midcourt with less than a minute to play. Which would have been a critical moment had the 'Eers not pulled out the victory. There's plenty of room to debate whether or not he should have been in the game. One of the most important tasks facing the Mountaineers in this young season is getting Kilicli to settle down and get into his role as a fierce rebounder and inside scorer. Everyone knows he has it in him, I just hope he does too.
The Mountaineers now await tonight's Minnesota/North Carolina game to decide their opponent for Sunday night's Championship Game. By all accounts the Tar Heels are expected to dispatch the Gophers with ease, and I'm not afraid to admit that's what I'm rooting for. The Mountaineers have gotten a few shots at Duke over the past twenty years, but never at the boys in baby blue. With a match-up of hall of fame coaches like Bob Huggins and Roy Williams, all of college basketball will be watching, and it would be a great opportunity for the Mountaineers to get a good win in front of the entire country. Either that, or they'll get blown out and get a heaping dose of an angry Bob Huggins all the way back to Morgantown. For a talented and experienced team with serious focus issues, both of those outcomes could prove to lead to great things later in the season.