College Basketball Nation: Casey Mitchell

Preview: Saturday in Tampa

March, 19, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. -- A look at today's games in Tampa:

No. 5 seed West Virginia (21-11) vs. No. 4 seed Kentucky (26-8), 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

Kentucky player to watch: Junior Darius Miller doesn’t get as much attention as freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, but he might have been UK’s most important player down the stretch. In the past 10 games, Miller is averaging 15.6 points. He had 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the Wildcats’ 59-57 victory over No. 13 seed Princeton in the second round on Thursday, after a solid performance in three games in the SEC tournament. At 6-foot-7, Miller is a tough defensive matchup for opponents. He can shoot from the perimeter, score off the dribble and post up in the paint. WVU coach Bob Huggins might assign John Flowers, his best defender, to guard Miller because he’s a three-way threat.

West Virginia player to watch: Senior guard Casey Mitchell is West Virginia’s leading scorer with 13.7 points per game, but he’s been noticeably quiet over the past few weeks. Mitchell scored only nine points on 2-for-8 shooting in a 67-61 loss to Marquette in the Big East tournament, and then had only four points on 2-for-6 shooting in an 84-76 win over Clemson in an NCAA second-round game on Thursday. Mitchell makes 37.8 percent of his 3-pointers, but he isn’t playing with much confidence right now.

Stat that matters: 1-8: Kentucky coach John Calipari’s record versus West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.

Three things to watch:

1. West Virginia’s defense: The Mountaineers upset the Wildcats 73-66 in the Elite Eight last season, earning their first trip to the Final Four since 1959. West Virginia struggled to guard UK with a man-to-man defense early in the game, so Huggins switched to a 1-3-1 zone. UK never solved the zone, missing its first 20 3-point attempts before finishing 4-for-32 from behind the 3-point line. Of course, West Virginia had longer wing players like Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks to defend the perimeter a year ago.

“[Last year], a lot of their shots were contested, under duress from the 1-3-1,” Mountaineers guard Joe Mazzulla said. “We got them off of the 3-point line and probably a few steps back. That’s just what we’ve got to do tomorrow. We can’t let them get standstill shots and we can’t let them set their feet. If we can make them rush their 3-pointers, and if we can get a hand in their face, then hopefully it’ll be the same result.”

2. Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight: The UK point guard was one of the country’s best freshmen, leading the team with 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game. But Knight has struggled from the floor over the past couple of weeks, shooting only 32.4 percent in his past six games. Knight hit the winning shot with two seconds left in the victory over Princeton, but missed his first seven shots in the game and never looked comfortable.

“At the beginning of the game [Thursday], guys around me were knocking down shots,” Knight said. “A lot of guys were finishing. Darius was on a roll. So at that point in the game, I didn’t really have to shoot the ball a lot. We were doing just fine.”

3. Kentucky’s bench: The Wildcats really use only six players, with five players averaging 30 minutes or more and senior Josh Harrellson playing about 28 minutes per game. Reserves Eloy Vargas and Jon Hood rarely leave the bench. West Virginia’s bench is about four players deep, as nine Mountaineers average 8.5 minutes or more. WVU’s reserves -- guards Mitchell, Jonnie West and Dalton Pepper and forward Deniz Kilicli -- combined for 28 points in the victory over Clemson.

No. 7 seed UCLA (23-10) vs. No. 2 seed Florida (27-7), approx. 2:45 ET (CBS)

Florida player to watch: Senior forward Chandler Parsons was named SEC Player of the Year without even leading the Gators in scoring. He was third on the team with 11.5 points per game, but led UF with 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. During the Gators’ 79-51 rout of No. 15 seed UC Santa Barbara in the second round, Parsons finished three rebounds short of recording a triple-double. In 27 minutes, he had 10 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists.

UCLA player to watch: It’s impossible to miss freshman center Josh Smith, who is 6-10 and 323 pounds. The Washington native lost 40 pounds during the offseason and is averaging about 21 minutes per game. After playing off the bench during the past 10 weeks, Smith started against Michigan State on Thursday and had 14 points, three rebounds and two steals in the Bruins’ 78-76 victory.

“I think when you see somebody that big physically and that strong, the feeling is maybe they don’t move quite as well or they can’t jump as well,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “But he really does a terrific job moving his feet for a guy that size. I also think the other thing that makes him a special player is he’s got great hands. I think when balls are up on the glass, he’s going to grab it.”

Florida’s big men -- Vernon Macklin, Erik Murphy, Alex Tyus and Patric Young -- will have their hands full trying to handle Smith.

Stat that matters: 0 -- Points scored in NCAA tournament games by UCLA’s players before Thursday night’s victory over Michigan State.

Three things to watch:

1. Malcolm Lee’s defense: The UCLA junior is one of the country’s best defenders and will gladly accept the challenge of slowing down Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. In the Bruins’ narrow victory over Michigan State, Lee harassed Spartans senior Kalin Lucas throughout the game. Lucas missed his first 10 shots and had four turnovers. He finished with 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting in his final college game. Lee is playing with a slight cartilage tear in his knee and even needed staples to close a wound on his scalp on Thursday night.

“I’ve said before I think Malcolm is the best defender at his position in the country,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

2. UCLA’s foul shots: The Bruins shot foul shots well at the end of the regular season, but their work at the foul line nearly cost them a victory over the Spartans on Thursday night. The Bruins made only 30 of 47 free ones against MSU, missing 13-of-28 in the second half. In the final 5 minutes, 19 seconds, UCLA went 12-for-22 from the foul line, which helped allow the Spartans to nearly come back from a 23-point deficit. The Bruins are shooting 68.1 percent from the charity stripe as a team, and forward Reeves Nelson and Smith are both shooting about 61 percent.

3. Florida’s experience: The Gators start three seniors, although they hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game until routing the Gauchos on Thursday night. The Bruins, who have been forced to rebuild after losing a boatload of players who helped them reach three straight Final Fours from 2006 to ’08, don’t have a senior on their roster. The Bruins sometimes make mistakes typical of young teams, like turning the ball over and missing foul shots. Can Florida’s veterans take advantage of UCLA’s youth?

Depleted roster tests Mountaineers

January, 25, 2011
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was watching tape of Louisville late Monday night and didn't seem too fazed by the latest depletion of his roster.

"We'll be fine," Huggins said by phone from Morgantown. "But the truth of the matter is that they don't give us enough scholarships. The women get 15. We get 13. You get a couple of guys hurt or somebody's sick or don't do what they're supposed to do and now all of a sudden you don't have enough to practice."

The reason the Mountaineers, who were in the Final Four last April, are in such a predicament is that they're down to eight scholarship players.

[+] EnlargeCasey Mitchell
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerCasey Mitchell, WVU's leading scorer, has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
The latest issue occurred when Huggins suspended leading scorer Casey Mitchell indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Huggins said he couldn't expand on the suspension. But Huggins said the previous issues he's had with Mitchell -- mostly about his inability to be coached and desire to defend -- had nothing to do with this incident.

"He's been practicing hard," Huggins said. "He has some things he has to do [to get off suspension]."

Mitchell had his first double-double of the season in a win over South Florida on Sunday with 13 points and 14 rebounds. The senior has had some breakout games for Huggins this season with 31 points in a win over Vanderbilt in Puerto Rico in November and 28 in a stunning win at Georgetown earlier this month.

The most bizarre exit from the team was from seldom-used sophomore Dan Jennings, who left the bench and the team -- literally -- during the South Florida game Sunday. He got up and just exited the floor. Huggins said Jennings wrote a message on the white board about his goodbye. Huggins said assistant coach Larry Harrison spent time with Jennings on Sunday night discussing the matter but Jennings is no longer on the team.

The reason the Mountaineers have such a short bench is that key members of the freshmen class aren't playing: Kevin Noreen had season-ending knee surgery on Jan. 12; Noah Cottrill withdrew from classes for the spring semester; Darrious Curry was not medically cleared to play and David Nyarsuk didn't meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

The Mountaineers already lost key members off the Final Four team in then senior Da'Sean Butler and sophomore Devin Ebanks, who left early for the NBA draft.

This leaves West Virginia with a core group of players -- Kevin Jones, Joe Mazzulla, Darryl Bryant, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers, Jonnie West, Cam Thoroughman and Deniz Kilicli -- to try to win enough games to get an NCAA bid.

"We beat Purdue," Huggins said of a recent key win. "We'll be fine."

Huggins said he expects to turn Mazzulla loose on the 3-point line.

"Teams won't see it coming," Huggins said with a hint of sarcasm.

Mazzulla is 1-of-13 on 3s this season.

"We didn't get our freshmen class in here. I had to get Jonnie back [who originally decided not to play this season). Danny decides to walk off the bench and leave the team and now we're down more [with Mitchell]," Huggins said. "But we'll do what we do to win. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

The Mountaineers head to Louisville on Wednesday before going to Cincinnati on Saturday. A home game against Seton Hall is wedged in between another road game at Villanova and then a home game against rival Pitt. The Mountaineers (13-5, 4-2 in Big East) should know soon if they're headed for the bubble or worse over the next month.

Truck Bryant takes responsibility for loss

November, 22, 2010
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell did just about everything he could to help the Mountaineers try to beat Minnesota in Sunday night’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off final.

Foul problems plagued a number of other players and even seldom-used bench players like freshman Kevin Noreen had to step in to provide some hustle and production.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Casey Mitchell
AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoCasey Mitchell scored 27 points in West Virginia's loss to Minnesota.
It wasn’t an ideal scenario -- and no one from WVU felt worse about the 74-70 loss than point guard Darryl Bryant.

In Friday’s semifinal win over Vanderbilt, Bryant scored 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting with six assists and one turnover. But against Minnesota, he wasn’t just off. He admittedly disappeared. And it cost the Mountaineers dearly as Minnesota lead guard Al Nolen scored 17 points, got to the line 12 times (converting 11), and backcourt teammate Blake Hoffarber connected on four 3s.

Bryant played just 10 minutes, took (and missed) one shot and finished with more turnovers (3) than points (0) and assists (1).

“I let my team down,’’ Bryant said. “We’re going to be good regardless of losing this game. But honestly, I didn’t show up to play. I let my team down. I was a no-show. We’ll get better. This is a long season and it’s just the third or fourth game of the season. We’re a talented bunch. We just have to pick it up. We will and we’ll win.’’

The Eers discovered they have a shooter and go-to scorer on the trip in Mitchell. He followed up his 31-point, game-winning-3 performance against Vandy with a 27-point showing against the Gophers. Mitchell, a senior, is no longer waging verbal warfare with West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.

“I’m a senior and I’ve got nothing to lose, so I’m focused every night,’’ Mitchell said. “If my shot doesn’t fall, I’ve got to help my team somewhere else and make the pass to an open man.’’

The Mountaineers didn’t get special play out of Kevin Jones or John Flowers on the wing. Deniz Kilicli is still a work in progress. Bryant and Joe Mazzulla were either erratic or not as productive. The role players -- Cam Thoroughman, Dan Jennings, Dalton Pepper and Noreen -- all had their moments of contribution.

But the reality is, West Virginia can only be a Big East contender if Mitchell makes shots, Bryant is locked in, Jones becomes a special talent and the rest of the players hit the boards.

It didn’t help on Sunday that the Mountaineers weren’t the more physical team and didn’t draw fouls. The Gophers went to the line 35 times compared to WVU’s 23.

West Virginia wasn’t exactly the most physical team here.

"We haven’t been this year,’’ Huggins said. “Generally we are. As a rule, we haven’t been this year.’’

And that needs to change for the Mountaineers to reach their potential.

Quieter Casey Mitchell shows potential

November, 19, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- If Casey Mitchell and Bob Huggins are finally on the same page, West Virginia has a real shot to compete for a Big East title.

If they continue this cat-and-mouse game of who is in control -- a game that Mitchell will always lose to the 673-win head coach -- then the Mountaineers may turn into a team that doesn’t reach its potential.

So far in this young season, Mitchell has kept quiet, not talking back to Huggins and playing the kind of defense required by Huggs. Mitchell’s ability to shoot was never in question. If he had been in line with his coach, that might be more known nationally. And it may now after Mitchell buried a decisive 3-pointer with three seconds left to finish off a career-high 31-point performance in Friday’s 74-71 semifinal win over Vanderbilt in the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

“I think he’s realized that he’s going to do what we asked him to do or he’s not going to play,’’ said Huggins. “He’s figured that out. We’re not asking him to do things that aren’t good. We’re not asking him to do bad things. But it’s hard to learn when your mouth is running. He’s grown up a lot.’’

Mitchell came to West Virginia a year ago from Chipola (Fla.) Junior College. Huggins recruited him to be a sharp-shooter. He was playing double-figure minutes in nonconference play last season, but his lack of defense and attention to detail led him to limited time. He played double-figures minutes only three times after Dec. 29.

Then he was suspended to start practice for a week to start this season.

“I know he gets frustrated with me,’’ Mitchell said of Huggins. “He knows I can play better. But he left me out there. Last year, I talked back a couple of times when I thought I was right about a situation. This year, I never say nothing back. I take it. I keep going. I keep working hard.’’

Mitchell said Huggins has gotten into his head, but in a positive way.

Casey Mitchell
AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoCasey Mitchell scored a career-high 31 Friday against Vandy.
“He made me learn a valuable lesson that no matter how good you are, you’ll sit down [if you don’t listen],’’ Mitchell said. “I learned from my mistakes this year. I’m not going to do it again. I’m going to listen to him, stay humble and work hard.’’

Mitchell’s teammates are well-aware that he and Huggins have had issues.

“I guess they’re alike,’’ said WVU’s Kevin Jones. “They’re both stubborn. Once Casey was listening and not talking back and buying into the season, he stepped up and matured. It’s showing on the court. He’s got a scorer’s mentality and when he gets hot it’s lights out. We know that from practice. Not a lot of others know it, but the country will know it as the season goes on.’’

Teammate Darryl Bryant, who can feed Mitchell’s shooting, said the reason for the Huggins-Mitchell riff was about his defensive focus.

“He wanted to when he wanted to,’’ Bryant said of Mitchell’s desire to play defense. “He wasn’t buying into Huggs. This year, he is and it’s carrying over to the game. I knew he would. He can make shots and when he’s hot, he’s hot.’’

Mitchell had one streak in the second half when he scored 11 of 13 points for the Mountaineers. He was stunned when in the middle of the last offensive possession and the game tied, Vanderbilt went to a zone. Bryant found Mitchell open for the 3-pointer.

Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings defended the zone, saying it had been good to the Commodores.

“We should have had him covered on that last play,’’ Stallings said of Mitchell. “There was no reason for him to have gotten that shot on the last play. We just missed coverage and didn’t do what we’re coached to do. But he still had to make the shot and he did.’’

Mitchell said when he sees a zone, “my eyes light up. I found the open spot and usually I can get wide open against a zone.’’

Mitchell, who is in better condition this season, said he felt that he was going to have a bust-out game when he arrived in San Juan. Mitchell scored 12 points in 22 minutes in the opening win over Oakland and then scored a dozen points in 20 minutes in the win over Davidson here Thursday. Mitchell made six 3s and 9-of-15 shots (as well as 7-of-8 FTs) to score 31 points.

If Mitchell is ready to listen, then his shooting can be the perfect complement to the ballhandling and driving ability of Bryant and Joe Mazzulla on the perimeter, Jones and John Flowers on the wing and the rotation of strong men role players like Deniz Kilicli, Cam Thoroughman and Dan Jennings.

“There seems to be a curse where everyone wants to show the world what they can’t do rather than what they can,’’ Huggins said of Mitchell. “He’s learned so much and he can be a better player. He’s understanding how to play and that’s why he’s better. He was in miserable shape last year. He’s in great physical condition now. He just needs confidence. He knows I’m not going to pull the hook on him.’’

No way. Not when Mitchell can shoot like he did Friday to elevate the Mountaineers to a win.
Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt team took a rather difficult loss to West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship today. The Commodores lost on a game-winning 3-pointer by WVU guard Casey Mitchell, who scored 31 points (yes, Casey Mitchell scored 31 points, and yes, I also had to make sure my eyes were working correctly) on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including a 6-for-12 mark from behind the line. Anytime Casey Mitchell torches you for 31 -- including a game-winning 3 with 3.8 seconds left -- you've had yourself a bit of a rough day at the office.

The day was tough enough for Stallings without any loud confrontations with the referees. But he had those, too. Stallings was apparently very loud and (very consistent) with his criticisms of the refs, and his complaints began almost immediately after the opening tip. From the AP:
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was livid with the referees from the start, yelling "don't turn this into a 67-foul fiasco!" West Virginia beat Davidson on Thursday in a game that had 67 personal fouls. He was whistled for a technical foul only 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Mitchell hit two free throws and a 3-pointer off the possession to put the Mountaineers ahead for good.

Later in the first half, and with the free-throw attempts at a lopsided 22-7 in favor of West Virginia, Stallings barked "22-7! 22-7!" One referee sternly cautioned Stallings "don't say it again."

You kind of have to feel for him. The foul discrepancy thing is a red herring -- more often than not, if a team has more fouls than the other, it's because, duh, they're committing more fouls -- but there's no getting around the fact that referees have spent much of the early part of this season whistling a rather enormous number of fouls. The 24-hour college hoops tip-off marathon was riddled with games slowed to a crawl by constant whistles. Last night's Illinois-Texas game, as physical as it was, was besieged by a bevy of foul calls on marginal plays. And a quick glance at's referee data reveals (at least partially) the notion that across the board, refs are calling a significantly higher number of fouls per game this season than they've averaged over the past 13 years, both individually and as a group. (That goes for technical fouls, too; Curtis Shaw, the 13-year leader in techs, called one every two games or so; referee Pat Adams has worked seven games and already blown for a technical 14 times.)

What does all this mean? Probably nothing. After all, the early part of the year always involves a mutual struggle between players and referees. Players have just spent seven months playing pickup basketball and roughing up teammates in practice, which is bound to lead to a more physical game. IN the meantime, referees called their last games seven or eight months ago. Everyone's rusty. Everyone's still figuring things out.

Let's hope that's the case. Let's hope everyone settles in. The alternative, that college basketball's refs -- who are overworked and underpaid, it should be noted -- are calling more fouls than ever this season by design is downright frightening.

It's also very unlikely. But, just for good measure, a quick reminder: Let the game flow, guys. No one tunes in to see your mechanics at the scorer's table. You have approximately one week to sort this out, or else. Or else what? Or else we, um ... write more blog posts about it! You've been warned!

West Virginia brings two back into the fold

October, 26, 2010
West Virginia senior guards Casey Mitchell and Jonnie West have been reinstated to the team, giving the Mountaineers two pieces from their Final Four team going into the season, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.

Mitchell was back with the team over the weekend after being suspended earlier this month for violating team rules.

West, the son of former West Virginia All-American Jerry West, had planned on leaving the team after graduation, but the former walk-on decided to return for his fifth year with the program while pursuing a master's degree.

The two combined to score 5.4 points per game last season, with Mitchell in line to possibly play more minutes and West a popular presence on the team.

Mitchell, a former national junior college player of the year, should see time in a backcourt that already consists of Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla.

With Bryant injured during the NCAA tournament, it was Mitchell who started in the Sweet 16 win against Washington. Mazzulla got the nod against Kentucky and came through with a career-high 17 points to help send the Mountaineers to the Final Four.

Previewing the WVU-UK East finale

March, 27, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Quick thoughts on the lead up to the East Regional title game 7 p.m. Saturday at the Carrier Dome:

  • Both teams expect a physical game, as physical as either has played this season. One of the first things I was asked in the locker room Friday by a Kentucky official was, "Where will the officials be from?" Who knows, but how they call the game could be interesting.
  • West Virginia’s Da'Sean Butler jokingly said he doesn’t need a last-possession game because he’s itching to take another last-second shot. But he wouldn’t mind. He loves it. He reminisced about being an only child and taking the last-second shots in front of his “hood” all the time, changing the score, saying there was more time left and always redoing until he really made the shot. Big Shot Butler has been quiet since the Big East tournament title game because West Virginia hasn’t needed his services in the final possession.
  • West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks announced he will draw Kentucky’s John Wall on a defensive assignment. He said that his length could be a problem for Wall and he has defended smaller guards in the past. I concur. I saw it when Ebanks gave Texas A&M issues in the Anaheim Classic in November. Ebanks said the quickest player -- or rather, toughest guard -- he has had to defend this season was Connecticut’s Jerome Dyson.
  • West Virginia guard Joe Mazzulla has been much more aggressive of late taking the ball to the basket. He didn’t seem to wince as he has in the past with his shoulder ailing him throughout the season. Mazzulla isn’t as much of a driving liability offensively. No one is going to expect him to shoot and Kentucky would likely slack off guarding him. But Mazzulla knows this and won’t put himself in position to take a 3-pointer.
  • Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins and Wall both said this is what they came for, to get to a Final Four. The goal has never wavered with these freshmen. Cousins also said rather candidly that he and Wall were going to be a package deal no matter where they landed and even tossed out NC State as a possible destination. That’s a bit of a surprise since Wall was always on the Wolfpack target being from Raleigh, but Cousins wasn’t necessarily on the radar from Alabama.
  • Local Syracuse fans tended to stay away Thursday night. I’ll be interested to see how many return Saturday night to fill up the Carrier Dome with the Orange now dispatched from the tournament.
  • A number of Kentucky officials said Kentucky fans spent thousands of dollars -- in the $2000 to $4000 range -- to go to the SEC tournament in Nashville and that’s one reason Kentucky fans have passed on going to New Orleans and now to Syracuse with the possibility of driving to Indianapolis next weekend.
  • West Virginia coach Bob Huggins went with Casey Mitchell in the starting lineup against Washington. Not sure if he’ll do the same against Kentucky.
  • Deniz Kilicli should have some interesting tussles with Cousins in the low post. Kilicli has been highly productive in the limited minutes and Huggins might use him more in this game with the slew of big bodies the Wildcats can toss at the Mountaineers.
  • Huggins and John Calipari continue to be miffed with Kentucky and West Virginia being in the same bracket -- the lone 1 vs. 2 game remaining. Remember, Kentucky was the second No. 1 seed and West Virginia was said to be the first No. 2 according to Dan Guerrero, the UCLA athletic director and chair of the selection committee.
  • Ebanks and others said they could look at this as a mini national championship game. It could. I think it will be the best of the Elite Eight. I know I’m not stepping too far out on a limb to say that at all.
  • Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson was in his glory discussing how things have changed at Kentucky in a year. It’s really amazing to see how the Wildcats' returnees are relishing in being on the verge of a Final Four after the chaos of a year ago. It’s one of the more remarkable turnarounds of a high-major program that I’ve ever seen. A year ago Kentucky seemed headed for an abyss and now it’s a steam train that isn’t stopping.