College Basketball Nation: Deniz Kilicli

What I can't wait to see: Big 12

October, 18, 2012
Here are five storylines I look forward to following in the Big 12 this season.

What I can’t wait to see:

How will Kansas replace Thomas Robinson?

I know the Jayhawks have the goods to make a run at their ninth consecutive Big 12 title. Jeff Withey proved his worth in last season’s run to the Final Four. He’s one of the top interior defenders in America. And he has spent a lot of time working on his mid-range game. He should be a different player this season.

Highly touted recruit Perry Ellis joins the fold. I think Elijah Johnson can carry the program. And Ben McLemore is a projected lottery pick on some boards. Losing Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson will hurt, but it’s not as though Bill Self hasn’t replaced top-notch talent in the past.

Robinson, however, was an emotional leader for the team as much as he was its top player a season ago. There were moments in which the Jayhawks appeared to be on the brink of collapse and he simply willed them to a victory. I think that’s the one question facing this team. Who’s that guy right now? Perhaps it’s Withey or Johnson. But someone clearly has to assume that role early, especially with so many young players in the mix. A failure to identify a player in that vital position could prove detrimental in Big 12 play.

What is Oklahoma State’s ceiling?

Oklahoma State should challenge Kansas and Baylor for the Big 12 title. “Should” is the key word. But the Cowboys will fulfill their potential only if they find a way to play disciplined basketball, a challenge for the program last season.

It just didn’t make sense for a program with this talent (Le'Bryan Nash, Markel Brown) to struggle the way it did last season (15-18, 7-11 Big 12). Freshman Marcus Smart has been listed as one of the top young point guards in America. If he can bring Oklahoma State’s talented contributors together and teach them to man up on defense, Travis Ford could have a special year with this program. That, however, is the biggest "if" in the Big 12.

How will Bruce Weber and Bob Huggins fare in the Big 12?

The league welcomes Kansas State’s Bruce Weber and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins to the mix this season. Both coaches found success in their former leagues (Big Ten and Big East, respectively). And I think they have the talent to make a great first impression (though Huggins coached at Kansas State, so he has been in the Big 12 before) in 2012-13.

Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez give Weber the building blocks for a successful debut. Weber scored solid recruits at Illinois, but he couldn’t meet expectations after the program’s Final Four run. The expectations at Kansas State should be more modest, which should allow Weber to coach comfortably and challenge for a spot in the top tier of the league.

Huggins might have a sleeper in West Virginia. The Mountaineers are all over the board on preseason projections. But Deniz Kilicli and a heap of impact transfers (Juwan Staten, Aaric Murray and Matt Humphrey) form a nucleus that could surprise the conference in 2012-13.

Last place goes to TCU or Texas Tech?

Both teams are hurting. Texas Tech lost Billy Gillispie during a highly publicized offseason mess. And according to players, that’s what they wanted. But even with him, Texas Tech’s chances of escaping the bottom of the league were slim with only six scholarship players returning from last season’s 8-23 squad. Trent Johnson introduces TCU to the league in what could be a very humbling debut. Johnson just doesn’t have a lot of talent on the roster. He’ll certainly take his lumps early. He already has added some pieces that will be available for the future. But for both TCU and Texas Tech, 2012-13 will be a tough season.

Can Baylor put it all together and upset Kansas?

Baylor is America’s “on paper” team. On paper, last season, the Bears looked like national championship contenders with Quincy Miller, Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. They were good. But various challenges throughout the season brought criticism to Waco. Even though they reached the Elite Eight, the Bears didn’t seem to come together until March. In 2012-13, Scott Drew has a roster that can challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. He has one of the best backcourts in America (Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, Deuce Bello, Gary Franklin and A.J. Walton) and he’s bringing in one of the top freshmen in the country in Isaiah Austin. If he can get this group to play to its strengths, Baylor will be the Jayhawks’ toughest challenger for the Big 12 crown. The potential, once again, is very high. But seeing is believing with the Bears.
It's no secret: 2011-12 was not West Virginia's best year on the basketball court. That's not the same as calling it a bad year: The Mountaineers still managed to eek out a 9-9 record in the Big East, and they still managed to sneak in to the NCAA tournament before losing to Gonzaga in the first round, and there are plenty of teams that wish they could say the same.

Still, 2012 was not the finest hour in Bob Huggins' tenure at WVU, mostly because his team was often so difficult to watch. Aesthetic value only goes so far, sure, but the Mountaineers were such a poor shooting team, and such a mediocre defensive unit, that their games often came down to a) whether Kevin Jones could carry the load and b) which team rebounded its own misses more frequently. These games were scrums, and they were ugly. Even the most loyal West Virginia fan had to occasionally avert her eyes.

[+] EnlargeBob Huggins
US PresswireBob Huggins and the Mountaineers enter the 2012-13 season with a whole host of new faces.
So: What does 2012-13 have in store? The Mountaineers, as you already know, are joining the Big 12. Can Huggy's team compete -- or even contend -- in their new-look league?

If not, it will not be for a lack of talent. Huggins loses Jones and senior guard Daryl "Truck" Bryant, his two leading scorers from last year's campaign, to graduation. The loss of the do-everything Jones -- an adept scorer and dominant offensive rebounder and a four-year stalwart at his position -- will require a particularly difficult adjustment. But despite that loss, Huggins is in many ways reloading. And he has transfers to thank for that.

If West Virginia does indeed plan to compete for the Big 12 title in 2012-13, it may well come down to the play of Aaric Murray, a former La Salle forward, and Juwan Staten, a transfer point guard from Dayton. Both bring tons of talent. At 6-foot-10, Murray is a potential NBA prospect; as a sophomore at La Salle, he grabbed 19.0 percent of opponents' misses and recorded a block on 7.6 percent of available possessions. (He also shot 20-of-57 from 3 that season. There is versatility here, too.) Staten, meanwhile, was one of the nation's best assist men in 2011, his freshman season at Dayton, when his 39.8 percent assist rate ranked him No. 10 in the country. Staten took his fair shot of shots that season (304, to be exact), but his pass-first tendencies nonetheless shone through.

West Virginia is also bringing along a crop of 2012 freshmen -- notably Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne, but Aaron Brown, Keaton Miles and Kevin Noreen all received solid minutes in their first seasons -- as well as one ESPNU 100 talent in No. 12-ranked power forward Elijah Macon, a Columbus, Ohio native who did his hooping and schooling at Huntington Prep. Big-bodied and ably bearded forward Deniz Kilicli returns, and hopefully he will play "Country Roads" on his guitar at Midnight Madness again. That was awesome.

Still, the key players to watch are Murray and Staten, and Staten may prove to be the most important; he offers as much promise as trepidation. Staten is the kind of facilitative point guard the Mountaineers have desperately lacked in recent seasons, particularly when Bryant was running the show. (Hinds and Browne both recorded assist rates above 20 this past season, but West Virginia's offense was hardly flowing.) If Staten is content to be that kind of player, and Murray and Kilicli and Huggins' other forwards hit the glass with the usual Hugginsian intensity, then West Virginia is almost guaranteed to improve in 2012-13. But if Staten is still mired in some of the things that precipitated his Dayton transfer in the first place -- bad chemistry with teammates, a bad reputation among his coaches, those sort of things -- the Mountaineers are going to struggle early and often on both ends of the floor.

There are many uncertainties for this team, from two bigtime transfers to a batch of freshmen with a year of experience under their belts, to a freshman power forward that may or may not make an immediate impact. Until Huggins gets his players on the floor in the fall, the best West Virginia fans can do is picture it in their mind's eye. Midnight Madness will be a fascinating experience, no doubt (and not just for Kilicli's strumming). But if all goes well, the team WVU fans see in 2012-13 could be much improved, capable -- at least -- of battling in the top half of its new league in its first Big 12 season.

At the very worst, this team should be more entertaining -- or, you know, less difficult to watch. For a squad with this many questions, the Mountaineers may offer some potentially exciting answers.

Previewing Pittsburgh: Evening games

March, 14, 2012
No. 10 West Virginia (19-13) vs. No. 7 Gonzaga (25-6), 7:20 p.m. ET

When the bracket came up and Gonzaga players saw they were traveling 2,000 miles across the country to play a team that had a simple bus ride up the highway, they didn’t groan.

Frankly, they didn’t even react.

They’re used to it.

“I feel if you’re at Gonzaga, you come into this tournament, you’re guaranteed to have a backyard team,’’ Robert Sacre said. “You always have to go somewhere else, in someone else’s backyard, no matter if you’re a higher seed.’’

Lest anyone think he’s just a West Coast whiner, consider 2008, when Gonzaga was the No. 7 seed and was slated to play Davidson in North Carolina. The Zags lost. In 2010, Gonzaga was the No. 8 seed and met up with top-seeded Syracuse in Buffalo in Round 2.

And now the Zags, seventh again, are but a stone’s throw away from West Virginia’s Morgantown address.

Conspiracy theory, anyone?

“The one thing we try to impart on our guys is control what you can control,’’ coach Mark Few said. “We don’t have any control of when and where.’’

Few, this season, is at least blessed with a young roster that doesn’t know any better. Gonzaga has five freshmen on the roster, all making their NCAA tournament debut.

They, Few said, were just happy to see their name on the screen.

Not that playing so close to home is easy. Bob Huggins has a season-ticket holder base of 8,000 and 500 tickets to share.

That’s bad math. But the coach has faith in his Mountaineers fans’ craftiness and fully expects they’ll find a way to wrangle some tickets for the game.

Meanwhile, he’s just happy he made it.

“They were talking about flying 2,000 miles,’’ Huggins said. “I said, ‘They’ve never rode with our bus driver. I’m stressed from the time I get in the bus.'’’

Who to watch:

Gonzaga’s Sacre: The Zags’ forward said he was "salivating" for the chance to play some East Coast-style basketball, where power is valued more than finesse. He’ll get his chance against the Mountaineers’ Kevin Jones. Jones can score down low and on a turnaround but he is especially lethal on the boards, where he averages 11 rebounds per game.

West Virginia’s Truck Bryant: The point guard ought to have the edge against the Zags’ younger backcourt, but it’s more than ballhandling Bryant has to take care of. It’s shooting. He’s been this side of terrible much of the season, shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor. That inefficiency puts way too much pressure and responsibility on Jones. Bryant needs to score.

What to watch: The inside game. Sacre wants a challenge? He and teammate Elias Harris are going to get one from Jones and Deniz Kilicli. Rebounding will be critical for both teams, but especially for the Mountaineers, who don’t exactly throw it in with any frequency from outside.

No. 15 Loyola (24-8) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (27-7), 9:50 p.m. ET

Jimmy Patsos won the news conference.

Can he win the game?

The affable Loyola coach, as expected, had the gathered media in stitches, cracking jokes and telling stories. He’s enjoying a mini reunion here, what with so many of Gary Williams' old staff assembled in Pittsburgh -- Patsos, Billy Hahn, an assistant at West Virginia, and Dave Dickerson, now on the Ohio State staff -- and he played it all up perfectly.

That left Buckeyes coach Thad Matta to play the straight man, explaining where Ohio State, still viewed by many as a football school, fits on the national consciousness and how difficult it is to continue success in the age of one-and-done.

It was earnest and honest and not nearly as entertaining as Patsos, who at one time joked his biggest failure was sticking so hard to Williams’ coaching philosophies.

“Gary Williams has had assistants like Rick Barnes, Fran Fraschilla, all these guys,’’ he said. “I shouldn’t say this, but they’re probably more successful because they didn’t run all his stuff so much.’’

But in between the jokes, Patsos admitted to a little secret: He isn’t afraid to dream. His team will be wild underdogs against the Buckeyes, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to cede victory.

“When you have a [16-seed] against a 1, there are no numbers,’’ Patsos said. “A 15 and 2, it happens once every two or three years. I don’t see it as a long shot. It’s 40 minutes, 10 four-minute segments. We have to win six of them. We stole that from Thad, by the way. He used to do that at Xavier.’’

Patsos invoked other 15-2 upsets for his Greyhounds, reminding them that in the old Igloo, the downtown Pittsburgh arena currently being torn down across the street from the Consol Energy Center, Coppin State took down South Carolina in 1997.

That, of course, is ancient history to the Greyhounds, mere toddlers back then.

“I remember George Mason went on a run and beat a lot of good teams,’’ Dylon Cormier said.

Who to watch:

Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger: This is simple. Loyola doesn’t have a player with Sullinger's size or ability. If the Buckeyes can get the ball to him consistently, they will easily win.

Loyola’s Erik Etherly: The MAAC tournament's most outstanding player, Etherly led his team in scoring and rebounding for the title. The junior has been good all season, averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds but he has never faced anyone quite like Sullinger. Etherly may not win the war, but he’s got to be able to hold his ground.

What to watch: The pace. Loyola wants to go; Ohio State wants to grind. If the Greyhounds can make like their namesake, they could potentially wear down the thin Ohio State bench. If not, this could be a long game for the MAAC champions. “If we can get the game going fast, we have a chance,’’ Patsos said. “If they put us in the meat grinder and go slow, Sullinger goes to work, you can call me at the 410 [area code]. I’ll be in Baltimore Friday by noon.’’
So much for a slow Saturday. College basketball fans and pundits alike should know better by now, but we always assume the worst on a supposedly “slow” weekend.

Let’s change the rules, based on what we’ve seen today. If you survey the weekend slate and you can’t find any meaningful games and potential upsets that you’re overly interested in, that means it’s time to call Earl and the crew (everybody has a friend named Earl), stock the fridge and get ready for some good basketball. If this was a lukewarm weekend in college basketball, what qualifies as a great one?

Iowa State 72, No. 5 Kansas 64

Many laughed when Fred Hoiberg began his tenure at Iowa State by recruiting from a pool of players known for their checkered pasts. Royce White, who left Minnesota two seasons ago after a tumultuous stay, led the bunch. But Hoiberg looks like a genius right now after the Cyclones handed No. 5 KU its first Big 12 loss of the season. The win snapped both the Jayhawks' 13-game winning streak over Iowa State and their 10-game overall winning streak (they hadn’t lost since Dec. 19).

The postgame court-storming was well-deserved for the 'Clones and their fans. Hoiberg has as much job security as any coach in the country based on his legendary career in Ames, which allowed him to pursue so many transfers without worry. In other words, he’d get a mulligan if things didn’t work out.

Against Kansas, however, Hoiberg proved that he’s more than a risk-taking recruiter. He can coach, too. Iowa State, a squad that suffered an 82-73 loss at Kansas on Jan. 14, led by three points at halftime. But that didn’t last. The Jayhawks scored 11 unanswered points early in the second half. The crowd’s energy dropped after that KU run, but Iowa State kept fighting, something it had failed to do down the stretch in its earlier loss to the Jayhawks.

White led the charge. With his team leading 56-53 and five minutes to play, he scored the Cyclones' next eight points (three straight layups and a pair of free throws). He entered the game as a 51 percent free throw shooter -- ISU was the Big 12’s worst free throw shooting team at 61 percent overall -- but he was 6-for-8 from the charity stripe in the second half. He finished with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, making up for his six turnovers. The team was 25-for-34 from the charity stripe.

So yes, the same Iowa State squad that lost at Drake Nov. 15 looks like an NCAA tournament team right now -- no matter what my colleague Doug Gottlieb might tweet. At 5-3, the Cyclones are off to their best Big 12 start in a dozen years and sure seem like they won't be fading away anytime soon.

No. 4 Syracuse 63, West Virginia 61

It just can’t happen. Not in late January with the stakes so high. Not when it’s so blatant. Officials in this game missed one of the more obvious and critical goaltending calls of the season. In the final seconds, West Virginia's Truck Bryant air-balled a 3-pointer that ended up in Deniz Kilicli’s hands with his team down by a bucket. Kilicli’s layup was swatted away in mid-air by Syracuse's Baye Keita, but replays showed what looked like a clear goaltending violation by Keita. Officials never blew their whistles.

West Virginia got the ball back and Kevin Jones (20 points, eight rebounds) missed a deep 3-pointer to win the game, but the final outcome might have changed had that crew flagged Keita for goaltending. Now granted, WVU had its chances. Brandon Triche (18 points) hit a pair of free throws with a minute and a half to play and the Mountaineers missed four consecutive shots. But the no-call clearly impacted the game.

Syracuse struggled in its third consecutive game without Fab Melo. The Orange just haven’t looked like the same squad without him and his defensive presence. West Virginia secured an astounding plus-21 (41-20) rebounding edge over the Cuse and had nearly as many offensive boards (19) as the Orange had total. How does that happen? It’s not like the Mountaineers are the biggest team in the country. They were just tougher than Syracuse most of the afternoon. And had it not been for that missed goaltending call, West Virginia might have avoided its 13th loss to the Cuse in 14 meetings.

No. 7 Baylor 76, Texas 71

With 4:09 to go, Texas' Myck Kabongo hit a 3-pointer as Pierre Jackson committed a ridiculous foul to put him on the line for a four-point play opportunity. Texas had been down by 12 points early in the second half, but Kabongo’s shot cut Baylor’s advantage to just one. Cameras panned to Baylor coach Scott Drew on the sidelines. He had the “I can’t believe this is happening at home” look on his face.

Perry Jones (22 points, 14 rebounds) was far more aggressive than he’d been in some of his efforts, but Baylor couldn’t keep the pressure on the Longhorns and nearly blew one at home. J’Covan Brown scored 32 points (11-for-22), his third consecutive 30-point effort. But he had way more time to create a better shot than the deep 3-ball he took with 14 seconds on the clock. His team was down by three points in the closing seconds, so I understand why he’d take a deep shot, but he didn’t have to shoot it when he did. He had more time on the clock.

Here’s where you have to have more question marks about Baylor, though. The Bears are at home. Texas shot 36 percent from the field in the first half and was 1-for-12 from beyond the arc before halftime. Seemed like an opportunity for Baylor to flex its muscle. But it turned into another lukewarm finish for the Bears.

No. 13 Florida 69, No. 16 Mississippi State 57

The Bulldogs just couldn’t handle Florida’s inside-outside attack. Patric Young (12 points, six rebounds) was solid for the Gators, especially after halftime. Bradley Beal led the Gators’ talented backcourt with 19 points. The nation’s leaders in 3-point field goals hit 11 of them as they won their fifth straight and 17th in a row at home.

Arnett Moultrie was 4-for-10 and scored 12 points for a Bulldogs team that committed 14 turnovers. It was MSU's third SEC road loss of the season. At 5-3 in league play, they’d better find a way to compete away from home. They’re certainly talented, but the Bulldogs have really struggled on the road. Thought this one would have been a closer game, but give the Gators credit. They can spread teams out with their guard play and minimize their size disadvantages, a tactic they used to perfection against the Bulldogs.

No. 1 Kentucky 74, LSU 50

The Wildcats are in Beast Mode right now. They’re just crushing teams. LSU entered this game following a tight road loss at Mississippi State. But the Wildcats are just a different animal. Terrence Jones led all scorers with a season-high 27 points and the Wildcats held LSU to a 1-for-9 clip from the 3-point line. Just two Tigers reached double figures.

Although LSU is only 2-5 in the SEC, you have to wonder how dangerous the Wildcats can be in March when a guy like Jones can explode despite some inconsistency this season. He entered the game averaging 11.6 ppg and he only scored five points against Georgia on Tuesday. But this game was further proof that Kentucky is a “pick your poison” kind of opponent. How do you defend a team with that number of studs? The Wildcats have so many weapons.

Syracuse is deep. Ohio State has balance. But no team in America looks as potent as Kentucky right now.

Some more observations from the afternoon games ...
  • It Happened! It Happened! It Happened! Towson wins! The Tigers had set a record with 41 consecutive Division I losses, but on Saturday, a miracle happened when the Tigers beat UNC Wilmington 66-61 despite a 1-for-8 mark from the 3-point line. Marcus Damas scored 18 points. There were shaky moments late -- the Seahawks hit some late 3s after Towson took a 60-53 lead with 1:25 to play -- but the Tigers held on and a justifiable celebration ensued. For reaction from coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers, read Andy Katz's story in the Nation blog.
  • Marquette did its normal slow-start/big-finish thing at Villanova, but Dana O'Neil was at the game, so I'll let her tell you more about it.
  • Duke nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead against a young St. John’s team. The Blue Devils' 83-76 victory over the Red Storm was nothing to hang their hats on. The Devils should be disappointed that they gave up a late run that could have cost them the game.
  • Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt clashed Saturday in a tight game between the two Tennessee schools. MTSU, 20-2 entering the game, has been one of the bigger surprises on the national scene. The Blue Raiders start four transfers who weren’t with the team last season. But their story hit a roadblock in their 84-77 loss at Vanderbilt. The loss snapped Middle's 12-game winning streak and gave Vandy its 10th win in its last 11 games.
  • Is Pitt about to launch a big comeback this season? I’m not sure. But the Panthers have won two in a row after an impressive 72-60 win over No. 10 Georgetown, their fifth win in their last six meetings with the Hoyas. They lost their first eight Big East games, but Nasir Robinson had 23 points on 9-of-9 shooting, Lamar Patterson scored 18 and Ashton Gibbs added 13 for the Panthers, who have now won an incredible 12 straight home games against top-10 opponents.
  • The Mountain West Conference is legit. Proof? No. 12 San Diego State took a tough 77-60 road loss at Colorado State on Saturday, despite Jamaal Franklin’s 24 points. After a brutal travel week in the Rockies, the loss snapped SDSU’s 11-game overall winning streak and its 58-game win streak against unranked foes, which had been the longest such run in the country. Colorado State’s dwindling at-large hopes certainly got a huge boost with this victory, the school's first over a ranked team since 2004.

Bob Huggins gracious after exhibition loss

November, 10, 2011
When West Virginia lost to Division II Northern Kentucky in an exhibition last week, at least two Mountaineer players called the defeat "embarrassing," with coach Bob Huggins unhappy afterward as well, according to West Virginia Illustrated.
"I could use a couple other words to describe it," said Huggins. "But I probably shouldn't for the family newspapers that you guys write for."

But Huggins' postgame emotions apparently didn't stop him from approaching the Northern Kentucky coaching staff with a nice gesture, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"Come here," the driver said to NKU assistant Kevin Schappell.

A couple of minutes later, Schappell came back to tell [head coach Dave] Bezold and the other assistants the driver wanted them to come with him.

It turns out the driver was West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who wanted to take the NKU staff to dinner. Schappell was a graduate assistant at West Virginia from 2007-10, and former West Virginia point guard Darris Nichols, who played for Huggins, also is an NKU assistant.

"It felt like a scene from 'The Godfather,'" said Bezold. "It was awkward at first. I didn't really know coach Huggins that much when he was at UC, and we had just beaten them, but he was great. We just discussed the game a little bit, and he told me how big of a win it was and not to underestimate that, but he also said that good feeling stops in the next practice. He used it as teachable moment for me."

Huggins has plenty of issues to be concerned about with his own team. The Mountaineers are young, inexperienced and getting used to a faster style of play. Deniz Kilicli had missed the NKU game with a knee injury. His players were embarrassed after losing 77-74 on a last-second shot to a Division II team that hadn't beaten a Division I squad since 1984.

But Huggins still found time to make it a special night for some young assistant coaches and Bezold while they were celebrating a big win.

Deniz Kilicli displaced after apartment fire

September, 30, 2011
West Virginia junior forward Deniz Kilicli is temporarily out of a home after escaping uninjured from a fire in his apartment building Thursday, according to the Dominion Post.
"I had just come back from class and was in the bathroom when all this was happening," Kilicli said. "I smelled smoke, but I figured it was something little."

Shortly after fire crews arrived and made sure everyone was out of the building, Kilicli realized his was wrong. "Then I saw it, and it was huge," he said. "The whole side of the building was on fire." Kilicli worried about his signature Zakk Wylde and Slash guitars. He estimated their worth at nearly $10,000 total.

"No one got hurt and my guitars are safe," Kilicli said. "That's all I really care about."

The electrical fire provided an unwelcome jolt as well as a significant inconvenience to one of the Mountaineers' top returning players. Kilicli, who averaged 6.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season, told the paper he would reach out to coach Bob Huggins for assistance because he was unhappy about the potential emergency housing option available to him that was farther away from school.

"It is a big problem for me," Kilicli told the paper. "I have no car, and being within walking distance of my classes and campus is important."

The 6-foot-9 Kilicli is a native of Turkey, and his college experience hasn't always been smooth sailing. The NCAA suspended him for 20 games as a freshman after determining he had violated an amateurism rule by previously playing for a Turkish team that included a professional player.

And now, shortly before the start of official practices, Kilicli has another issue to deal with.

Bob Huggins to bring back Cincinnati style

July, 12, 2011
The easiest way to tell that West Virginia will be a young team next season is by checking its current roster, which consists of only four returning players.

There is talent there with seniors Darryl Bryant and Kevin Jones, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft. Deniz Kilicli is back along with Kevin Noreen, who didn't play much before needing season-ending knee surgery.

With a lack of experience, there is also the benefit of somewhat of a blank slate. According to what associate head coach Larry Harrison told Metronews Statewide Sportsline, the team's preseason tour of Italy presents an opportunity to go back to playing an old-school style of Bob Huggins basketball.
"We're going to introduce a new style of play," Harrison said. "With the type of players that we have, we're going to try to play like the old Cincinnati teams that we had with the running and trapping and just playing full-court defense. We're going to try to put that in with these 10 days of practice that we have. And then when we take them over to Italy, we're going to play that way and get them used to playing that style. And then come back in October, we'll break it down a lot more and give them a little more time to adjust to our teaching. We're going to throw them into the fire right way because that's the way we want them to get used to playing."

Harrison, who coached under Huggins at Cincinnati from 1989-97, sounded excited. During his eight years there, the Bearcats were 192-71 and won six conference championships. They went to the Final Four and made two trips to the Elite Eight playing in Huggins' aggressive style.

Can a new batch of players help dust off what worked for Cincinnati? When they're not busy sightseeing in Italy, that will be the big question as the Mountaineers get an early start in preparing for the season. Laying the groundwork has already begun for Huggins, as he'll be going back to the basics for what was successful in the past.

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.

Kentucky can win SEC without Kanter

January, 7, 2011
Kentucky is the team to beat in the SEC heading into Saturday’s conference opener at Georgia.

And that’s without 6-10 freshman forward Enes Kanter, who was ruled permanently ineligible on Friday, upholding a previous NCAA decision that deemed he received impermissible benefits while playing for a professional team in his native Turkey.

The Wildcats never had Kanter this season. He wasn’t even eligible to play on the team’s three-game preseason trip to Canada in August. So all this talk, hype and expectation of what Kanter could do for Kentucky was never a factor in the development of this team.

UK coach John Calipari said a number of times to over the past few months that Kanter would help the Wildcats, but he made it clear that no one player was going to dominate and be the savior. Maybe he was saying this to temper expectations of the Big Blue Nation about the possibilities Kanter could provide for Kentucky in its chase for the national title. But Calipari never had to gameplan with Kanter in mind.

[+] EnlargeEnes Kanter
Mark Zerof/US PresswireEnes Kanter never played a game for Kentucky but at least one NBA scout thinks he'll be a top-5 pick in the NBA draft.
One NBA director of scouting told Friday night that Kanter would still likely be selected in the top five in the NBA draft in June now that he has been ruled permanently ineligible. That thinking hasn’t changed since the preseason, when NBA scouts watched him work out in Lexington, or even in early November, when one NBA scout told in Puerto Rico that he had just come from watching Kanter and was convinced he would be a top-three selection if he declared in the spring.

So, obviously Kanter would have made a difference for the Wildcats. Penn assistant coach Dan Leibovitz, whose Quakers lost to Kentucky 86-62 Monday, said on Friday night how the coaching staff discussed “how good they’d be with him.’’ But they were impressed by how much of a factor senior forward Josh Harrellson was for the Wildcats. Harrellson, who scored 23 points and grabbed 14 boards in a win at Louisville on Dec. 31, scored 12 and corralled 11 boards against Penn for his second-straight double-double.

“With what they do offensively,’’ Leibovitz said. “Having a big that makes layups goes a long way.’’

Kanter could do that and more in the post. But Harrellson, though not a traditional low-block player, has proven himself more than serviceable for a team that relies heavily on perimeter players like Brandon Knight (18.3 ppg) and Doron Lamb (14.1 ppg) offensively, as well as slashing forward Terrence Jones (17.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg).

“We had our hands full with them and we couldn’t keep them off the backboard,’’ said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose Irish were outrebounded 40-33 in a 72-58 loss to the Wildcats on Dec. 8 in the SEC-Big East Invitational in Louisville. Harrellson had nine boards in that game.

“I’m really impressed with Harrellson and what he’s doing for them,’’ Brey said Friday. “He’s playing his role. They’ve all gotten better. They’re a young team, which is getting reps. I thought they’d be young when we played them but they’re playing older and getting better and better.’’

Kanter is done as a college player because he was deemed to have received more than $33,000 in impermissible benefits while playing for the Turkish club team Fenerbache two years ago. He was a rarity, a foreign player who was a lock for the lottery yet tried to play college basketball. Foreign players sought at that level of the NBA draft don’t come to the United States to play college basketball anymore. The last one that considered it was Dirk Nowitzki, when Cal was pursuing him. He opted for the draft.

Fellow Turkish nationals like West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli, who was suspended for 20 games under a previous NCAA rule for playing alongside a professional in Turkey, or Texas guard Dogus Balbay, weren’t talented enough to declare for the NBA draft. They needed to develop so they came to college. They may never be NBA players. They weren’t even playing at a high enough level to command the type of expenses that Kanter did on his club team, even as a teenager.

Kanter was essentially deemed a professional by the NCAA in its final ruling Friday. Kentucky is irate over his inability to gain eligibility, especially in comparison to other extra benefit cases. But the one certainty throughout the whole process was that the Wildcats can still win the SEC without Kanter.

Kanter’s college career is over, but it never started. It’s unfortunate for him, but it’s his loss. Kentucky didn’t lose anything in this case. It never had the chance to have him and the Wildcats will still be a Final Four contender and SEC title favorite without him.

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.

West Virginia needs to find a groove

April, 3, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Quick thoughts midway through second half:

  • West Virginia still can’t find its shooters. Duke continues to torch the Mountaineers at key points during this game as Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer were left open for 3-point buckets.
  • Da'Sean Butler continues to look incredibly frustrated. He has never been in a groove.
  • Deniz Kilicli was a factor in the first half, but has hurt the Mountaineers in the second with a turnover, a poor foul and a missed assignment.
  • The Blue Devils got a technical when Miles Plumlee followed a dunk by hanging on the rim. The official who called the tech was Curtis Shaw. It was probably a necessary call but still not surprising that Shaw made the call.
  • Unless West Virginia gets stops Duke will be playing Butler for the national title.

Halftime: Duke 39, West Virginia 31

April, 3, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Quick halftime thoughts from Duke’s 39-31 halftime lead on West Virginia.

  • West Virginia’s early defense, especially the 1-3-1 wasn’t working at all as the Mountaineers repeatedly couldn’t find 3-point shooters Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
  • Duke did to West Virginia what the Mountaineers did somewhat to Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Scheyer, Singler and Smith made 7 of the 14 3s attempted by Duke.
  • The pregame storyline was who would control the backboard and the answer was – Duke. The Blue Devils had seven offensive rebounds and kept plenty of possessions alive. The unselfish play by Duke was evident as it had 12 assists on 16 field goals.
  • Singler is playing like a high draft pick in this tournament. He continues to hunt his shot, make tough ones from behind the 3-point line and can get to the hole.
  • The Mountaineers started to find their rhythm and did shoot 50 percent in making 13 of 26 shots, 4 of 7 3s. The problem was Duke shot over 50 percent.
  • Deniz Kilicli was a factor in the first half by scoring four points in five minutes but did have a costly turnover that led to a bucket.
  • Joe Mazzulla got pummeled multiple times. His shirt was torn and he had to get a new one with a fresh number. He looked like he hurt his ankle and then his head. But he stayed in the game and played 16 of the 20 minutes. The Mountaineers must have him on the court to have a chance.
  • Da'Sean Butler has to find his groove. He is just 1-of-5 from the field. The Mountaineers can’t win if he doesn’t get untracked.
  • Devin Ebanks is the Mountaineers’ stud so far. He’s playing with more enthusiasm, emotion and purpose than I’ve seen at any point this season. He was 4-of-5, got a three-point play when the Mountaineers needed it most and finished with nine points in 17 minutes.
  • Duke is 20 minutes away from facing Butler in the final. That would be perceived as the ultimate David vs. Goliath, even though in this season, the Bulldogs aren’t far off from being an equal.
INDIANAPOLIS – West Virginia coach Bob Huggins talked at length in the preseason about how much of an impact Deniz Kilicli could have for the Mountaineers.

[+] EnlargeDenzi Kilicli
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCoach Bob Huggins may call on Deniz Kilicli to defend Duke's bigs.
The 20-game suspension by the NCAA in response to a question about his amateur status put the Turkish 6-9 center on the shelf. But he was always lurking as a possible late-season addition that could be a difference-maker.

He hasn’t won games for the Mountaineers but it’s hard to dispute that at times he has played significant minutes during key stretches of the game. His productivity is quite high, averaging 3.4 points in just 6.6 minutes. He’s not as much of a rebounder, but he stays with the basketball once he gets in the post.

Why am I selling Kilicli to you at this juncture after he played just two minutes in the Elite Eight win against Kentucky? The Wildcats’ game became much more of a 3-point affair for West Virginia. But against Duke with Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Mason and Miles Plumlee the Mountaineers will likely need Kilicli’s spot minutes during the national semifinal.

“It’s very possible, it depends on how the game goes," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s got a big body and our guys know how to throw him the ball. He’s got great hands. Our guys know to throw him the ball.’’

Kilicli earned his teammates’ respect early in practice. Once he was able to be productive, beginning on Feb. 3 against Pitt when he scored nine points in seven minutes, his value to the team off the bench has increased.

“He’s another threat in the post and he comes in the game and scores in quick bursts,’’ West Virginia wing Da’Sean Butler said. “He gives us some post presence that we need since we start out 6-7, 6-8.’’

Butler disputes at least my theory that Kilicli can be more of a banger if needed.

“He’s totally finesse man,’’ Butler said. “He’s definitely finesse. He’s a very rare post player being that he’s from overseas. He has his ruggedness but get ready for him to spin away. He’s got a little bit of stuff with him.’’

Zoubek is aware of how effective Kilicli has been for the Mountaineers in his brief time.

“He looks physical,’’ Zoubek said. “He comes in and he’s a little different than everybody else they have. He’s a true post and gives them that different look. It’s a tradeoff. They might be more physical underneath with him and force me to stay by the basket and protect the basket. The smaller guys can drag me out a bit more.’’

Kilicli may need to be needed for that West Virginia line change if the Mountaineers need a change of speed against the taller Blue Devils. He might only play a handful minutes but don’t be surprised if those are some of the more effective post minutes off the bench for the Mountaineers if they’re going to beat Duke.

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.