The story of West Virginia's season so far has been one of disappearing depth. Their freshman class all-but-vanished to a variety of fates: non-qualification, medical issues, and an untimely expulsion. Another freshman had season-ending surgery. The real kicks to the groin came when leading scorer Casey Mitchell was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules and then sophomore Dan Jennings stood up from the team's bench during their game against USF, and left.
Well, Mitchell is back this weekend, and the 'Eers are right in the thick of the Big East race, despite playing with just eight healthy scholarship players for a long stretch. They currently sit at 6-3 in the conference with their best conference win over Georgetown.
In addition to the guard, Mitchell, who averages 16.6 points per game and 3.6 rebounds, the Mountaineers have two other players who have averaged double-digit scoring. Junior forward Kevin Jones averages 13. 2 ppg and 7.1 rebounds. Junior point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant puts up 11 points and dishes out 3.2 assists per contest.
The Mountaineers also go to sophomore forward Deniz Kilicli a lot, and he has scored 6.9 ppg to go with 4.2 rebounds in an average of 16.4 minutes per game. Meanwhile senior forward John Flowers and guard Joe Mazzulla are also notable contributors, with Flowers' main role cleaning up on the boards while Mazzulla actually leads the team in assists with 3.4 per game.
At 37%, Mitchell is the team's best option among the starters shooting from deep, but Jonnie West (the NBA logo's son) leads the team in that category at 43.8% (though, he only plays an average of 10.2 minutes).
During Mitchell's suspension, Cam Thoroughman has seen his role on the team increase notably, playing as much as 26 minutes against Seton Hall. He has been asked to score more while on the court, but so far his strongest performance was a 10-point game against SHU.
While they have played a lot of man defense this season, the Mountaineers have a tendency to switch defenses, and did so effectively against the Wildcats last season. When it appeared that the 'Cats struggled most against a zone last year, the Mountaineers took advantage of that fact. It will be key for Villanova to not allow the switching defenses to catch them off-guard.
Opponents shoot well against WVU from 3-point land, and the 'Cats should look to get Corey Stokes going in this game to take advantage of that fact. The Mountaineers look to do most of their scoring from inside the arc, and as usual present a tough match-up for the Villanova bigs with a lot of talent on their frontline. It remains to be seen if Mouph Yarou and Antonio Pena can repeat their performance from Wednesday. If they can, it would go a long way toward earning a 7th win on Saturday afternoon.
West Virginia clawed it's way back into the AP top-25 over the first half of the Big East season, and this is a team that is nothing if not motivated to win games. The 'Cats will have to present a balanced attack offensively and find ways to match up with the WVU bigs on defense. The WVU backcourt is also talented, but Stokes or Cheek should be able to handle Casey Mitchell, while Fisher and Wayns take on Bryant and Mazzulla.
Teams that play tough tend to win the most games in the Big East, and I'd like to see some tough play in the post on Saturday, as well as a commitment to driving the lane and consistent ball movement, from our guards.
The game will tip off at Noon from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and television coverage will be provided by ESPN.
ALSO: Don't forget to check out the Q&A I did with The Smoking Musket, and get your entries in for Closest to the Pin.