College Basketball Nation: Joe Mazzulla

Joe Mazzulla lands assistant coaching job

September, 28, 2011
Joe Mazzulla, who helped lead West Virginia to a 2010 Final Four appearance, will begin his career as a Division II assistant coach after recently completing his eligibility, according to West Virginia Illustrated.
Former WVU Guard Joe Mazzulla was recently hired as an assistant coach for the Glenville State men's basketball team.

Mazzulla had an opportunity shortly after his senior season to become an assistant coach at Nova Southeastern, but turned it down for the potential opportunity to play professional basketball overseas. Mazzulla did not find any good overseas opportunities and decided to get his coaching career started.

It couldn't have been easy for Mazzulla to give up his playing career. Back in April when he had received the offer to coach at Nova Southeastern in Florida, he appeared not quite ready to hang 'em up just yet.

But now he's moved on to another stage and joined ranks with the coaching community. For someone who overcame injuries and early struggles and established himself as a solid player at a successful program, his experience should be invaluable.

To get an idea for how far Mazzulla has come, Rick Reilly had this during the Final Four run:
This is a kid who, last February, thought his basketball days were over. He was about to have radical shoulder surgery that doctors said no hoops career had ever survived.

Mazzulla came to him on that day with tears in his eyes. "Coach, you think I'll ever play again?" And [Bob] Huggins took him by the shoulders, looked him in the eyes and said, "Well, you're always talking about you being the best soccer player in the state of Rhode Island; you can always go play soccer. You don't need arms for that."

The rest is history. Now Mazzulla might at times have to channel his inner Huggins to get through to a new generation of players. Coming from a guy who played on college basketball's biggest stage, they'd better listen.

Joe Mazzulla offered assistant coaching job

April, 29, 2011
It's not easy being a college graduate these days and searching for jobs, so West Virginia senior Joe Mazzulla is one of the lucky ones even if he chooses not to immediately pursue a professional playing career.

According to West Virginia Illustrated, Mazzulla has been unofficially offered an assistant coaching position at Division II Nova Southeastern University if he wants it, and the way coach Gary Tuell became interested in the Final Four-experienced guard is pretty amazing.
It was a cold, rainy night in Danville, Illinois, Tuell begins his story. The veteran coach was in town for the National Junior College Division-II Championship and found himself driving around in search of a McDonald's while listening to the WVU-Clemson game on the radio. He found his golden arches, parked his car and tuned in to hear the Mountaineers beat the Tigers. Then he heard the postgame interview with Mazzulla.

"I thought, 'Wow, this guy is all into coaching and he's a bright kid and he's a tough guy,'" says Tuell. "All the things that I'd like to have as an assistant coach I thought Joe embodied, at least from the short time I could tell on the radio. It was just an inspirational thing."

Tuell got in touch, and now Mazzulla has to decide whether or not he wants to accept the job in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Mazzulla told West Virginia Illustrated he's taking an NCAA compliance class and now just wants to visit campus to see if he wants to coach or pursue a playing career overseas.
"It's a pretty good opportunity, but I don’t know if I'm ready to retire just yet," he says. "It's tough, especially with the competitive nature that I have. No matter how hurt [I am] or what the scenario is, I always try to play more and stuff like that. It's something that I've thought about here and there but I'm really kind of letting the visit and the atmosphere of the university really gauge whether I want to do it or not."
"Two weeks from now I could be at an AAU [event] evaluating a Division-II kid, so that's something that obviously goes into it," he says. "If I do it, am I not only going to do it physically but 100 percent mentally with that kind of coaching maturity? That's something that I’m obviously going to look into."

Mazzula and Bob Huggins share a close relationship, so he definitely has a coach to help him make a decision and even offer up advice on a coaching style. There are limits to that, of course.

Earlier in the week, Mazzulla spoke at the Huggins' charity roast and indicated that if he does enter the coaching ranks, you won't see him wearing sweat suits.

TAMPA, Fla. -- In the first half of Saturday’s East Region third-round game between No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 5 seed West Virginia, Mountaineers guard Joe Mazzulla was lighting up the Wildcats, just like he did in the Elite Eight a year ago.

Mazzulla, who scored a career-high 17 points in the Mountaineers’ 73-66 upset of UK last year, had 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the first half of Saturday’s game.

At that rate, Mazzulla was going to be the most despised opposing player in the Commonwealth since Duke’s Christian Laettner.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Liggins and Joe Mazzulla
Kim Klement/US PresswireDeAndre Liggins, left, helped limit West Virginia's Joe Mazzulla to just five second-half points.
“He was getting too many easy, uncontested layups,” Kentucky guard Darius Miller said.

With the Wildcats trailing 41-33 at the half, UK coach John Calipari made an adjustment.

UK junior DeAndre Liggins, a 6-foot-6 defensive stopper, was going to guard Mazzulla in the second half.

“In the first half, we let him do what he wanted,” Liggins said. “He had some uncontested layups. I just wanted to make it tough for him in the second half, which I did.”

With Liggins hounding him, Mazzulla scored only five points after the half, and the Wildcats ran away with a 71-63 victory to advance to next week’s region semifinals in Newark, N.J.

“[Liggins] absolutely [loves to play defense] and that’s what makes him special,” Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua said. “He’s one of the better defenders in the country. We just told him to stay in front of [Mazzulla] and make it tough on him.”

More than anything else, Antigua said Liggins had to stay in front of Mazzulla.

“You’ve got to move your feet,” Antigua said. “[Mazzulla] is very crafty and a very smart player. He doesn’t beat you with speed; he beats you with his craftiness and angles.”

Mazzulla found it especially difficult in the final few minutes of the game. After UK went ahead 60-56 with less than four minutes to play, Mazzulla missed a layup and was called for a foul. On the Mountaineers’ next possession, UK senior Josh Harrellson and Miller blocked Mazzulla’s shot.

“They played Liggins on Joe, just put a little more size on him,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “We just got all balled up again. When we stayed spread, we had a better chance. We didn’t get wide enough. And when you start creeping in, your defense creeps in. They had good help on defense, but we didn’t spread them the way we spread them in the first half.

“We’re just too small not to spread people. We just get swallowed up with size if we don’t spread people.”

Mazzulla had a hard time spreading the floor because Liggins was always in his way.

“I think DeAndre is the best defender in the country,” Harrellson said. “He can guard anybody from one [point guard] through four [power forward] and can guard a couple of big men. He’s always there when you need help and he’s always there to take a charge.”

Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight, who scored a career-high 30 points against the Mountaineers, said Liggins’ intensity inspired his teammates.

Liggins finished with three points on 1-for-2 shooting, but also had nine rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.

“It was big-time,” Knight said. “It was just as important as Josh’s play and rebounding. His length, his intensity and tenacity spreads to the rest of us.”

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?

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tired legs?

No. 12 seed Clemson came storming out of the locker room in its East Regional second-round game against No. 5 seed West Virginia, grabbing an early 10-point lead over the Mountaineers at St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday. The Tigers were playing for the second time in less than 48 hours, after defeating UAB 70-52 in a first-round game on Tuesday night.

But West Virginia stormed back to tie the game at 40 at the half, and then turned up its defensive intensity in the second half to pull away with an 84-76 victory.

Turning point: After West Virginia took a 76-71 lead on Joe Mazzulla's two foul shots with 1:43 to go, Mountaineers guard Dalton Pepper stole the basketball from the Tigers and scored layups on two straight possessions. The Mountaineers turned a four-point lead into an 80-71 advantage in only 23 seconds.

Player of the game: West Virginia forward Kevin Jones gave his team some much-needed momentum by knocking down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the score at 40 heading into halftime. Jones, a junior from Mount Vernon, N.Y., scored 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds.

Key stat: 80.6 percent: The Mountaineers made 25 of 31 foul shots and went 10-for-10 in the first half. West Virginia shot 70.6 percent from the foul line this season.

Miscellaneous: West Virginia guard Truck Bryant scored 19 points with three rebounds, and Mazzulla had 12 points with seven assists. Clemson guards Demontez Stitt and Andre Young combined for 38 points.

What’s next: West Virginia advances to play the winner of Thursday’s second-round game between No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 13 seed Princeton on Saturday. The Mountaineers upset the Wildcats 73-66 in the Elite Eight last season. Clemson finished the season with a 22-12 record, a pretty good rookie campaign by coach Brad Brownell.
Here are some quirks, oddities and unintentional humor from the humorless Gene Smith and the 2011 NCAA tournament selection committee.

Is there such a thing as a Weekend Pass?
We all have become very familiar with the BYU Honor Code this year thanks to the suspension of Brandon Davies. It should be interesting to see how that plays in New Orleans, which is where the Cougars will go if they make it to the Sweet 16. I’m pretty sure the Bourbon Street Code reads a little differently.

Don’t I know you from somewhere?
A year ago, Kentucky’s Final Four train was unexpectedly derailed in the Elite Eight when Joe Mazzulla, hampered much of the season by an injured shoulder, started for the first time and dropped 17 on the unsuspecting Wildcats to lead West Virginia to the Final Four.

Fast forward to this season’s bracket. If Kentucky gets past Princeton in its first game, and if the Mountaineers beat either Clemson or UAB, the two will meet up again.

Reunion Arena
[+] EnlargeIllinois coach Bruce Weber
(AP Photo/Andy ManisIllinois coach Bruce Weber may face a former Illini coach or two in the tournament.
We like to think the Selection Committee is as serious as the Warren Commission, but there’s no way the crew couldn’t have snickered a little bit when they saw what they had put together. Former chair Gary Walters once referred to the unintended matchups as the “serendipity of the tournament itself.”

There are several interesting twists in this year’s field but how about this one in particular: Illinois coach Bruce Weber will face former Illinois coach Lon Kruger in the second round when the Illini take on UNLV. If the former is successful, he is likely to face another “former” when Weber and Co. would see Kansas and Bill Self, who coached the Illini prior to Weber’s arrival in Champaign.

Another interesting matchup is Memphis coach Josh Pastner facing off with Arizona, his alma mater and the school where he got his first shot at coaching under Lute Olson.

Spell that, please
When Kentucky readied to square off against Cornell a year ago, DeMarcus Cousins scored the quip of the week when asked about facing the Ivy League champion.

“We’re here to play basketball. It’s not a spelling bee,’’ he said.

It was funny then and it’s downright ironic now.

This year the committee paired the Wildcats with the latest Ivy League champ, Princeton.

Fear the B
It’s wildly improbable but the last two times Kansas lost in the first round it was to B-lettered universities. In 2005, Bucknell took down the Jayhawks and in 2006, it was Bradley. This year’s opponent is Boston University.

What’s the Matta?
The committee did Thad Matta no favors, putting two coaches with national championships (Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams) and four more with Final Four (John Calipari, Bob Huggins, Jim Larranaga and Jay Wright) between him and Houston.

Other fun facts

  • Princeton is a 13 seed. The last time the Tigers were a 13, they beat defending national champ UCLA in 1996. By the way, Princeton's last (and only win) over Kentucky came in 1926.
  • Marquette (11 seed) and Kentucky (4 seed) could meet in the East Regional final. These two teams have met 10 times in the NCAA tournament, most all-time.
  • The last time Florida was a 2 seed was in 2003. The Gators played in Tampa in the first two rounds just like this year. They lost in the second round to Michigan State by 22, a team they could play in the second game against if the Spartans beat UCLA.
  • The last time St. John's faced Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament was 2000. The Johnnies were the 2 seed and Gonzaga was the 10. The Bulldogs pulled off the upset.
  • Louisville faces in-state foe Morehead State in the first round. Morehead's last NCAA appearance was in 2009, when it also played the Cardinals.

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.

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.
West Virginia point guard Joe Mazzulla has developed a rather unfortunate habit of finding his way into the police blotter. The first incident came in 2008, when Mazzulla was charged with underage drinking and aggravated assault at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Last year, Mazzulla was suspended by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins for his arrest on charges of domestic battery. Mazzulla allegedly grabbed a woman by the neck at The Lady Lizard bar in Morgantown, W.Va. Both incidents involved alcohol.

Which is why Huggins will probably be forced to take this latest bit of news somewhat seriously: On Sunday, Mazzulla and teammate Dalton Pepper were cited for allegedly urinating in public in downtown Morgantown. The duo can either go to court or pay fines ranging from $135 to $535.

In a vacuum, a public urination charge isn't that big of a deal. College kids drink, and when they do, they tend to lose sight of appropriate venues for urination. It happens. But given Mazzulla's previous alcohol-related arrests, Huggins might feel the need to punish his point guard more harshly than a lone case of public urination would otherwise require. For now, Huggins released a statement saying he was aware of the situation, and that it would be handled internally.

The Mountaineers will need Mazzulla to up his focus in 2010-11. After the graduation of DeSean Butler, the Mountaineers will be relying on their senior point guard more than ever; he'll need to be a more productive and efficient player (his turnover rate in 2009-10 was alarmingly high, for example) and, perhaps most importantly, a leader. Being arrested for public urination is not the best way to go about that task whether you've been arrested before or not.

(Hat tip: College Hoops Journal)

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.

Duke remembers '08 loss to Mountaineers

April, 2, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS –- It was two years ago, but the memories are pretty fresh.

And so are the postgame quotes.

West Virginia didn’t just beat Duke in the 2008 NCAA tournament.

It beat Duke up, beat Duke down, beat Duke sideways. And then the Mountaineers mocked the Blue Devils on the way to the Sweet 16.

At one point in the game, Joe Mazzulla got down and slapped the floor, Dukie style. (“A spur-of-the-moment thing,” Mazzulla said.) And several WVU players remarked after the 73-67 victory how unimpressed they were with the blue-blood Blue Devils.

Mountaineers forward Wellington Smith: “It's just a name on the front of a jersey,” he said. “It's not like they have Jason Williams or Carlos Boozer anymore.”

Mountaineers star Joe Alexander, after crushing Duke 45-19 on the glass: “We knew that coming in that they were just going to stand around and not rebound, so we were ready to exploit that.”

Mountaineers reserve Cam Thoroughman, when told that point guard Greg Paulus was one of eight McDonald’s All-Americans on the Duke roster: “Oh my God. Are you kidding?”

West Virginia did everything but graffiti Cameron Indoor Stadium and draw a mustache on Mike Krzyzewski (the latter disrespect was performed Friday by the Indianapolis Star). And there was nothing the Devils could do about it.

It’s safe to say that Duke has not forgotten.

“I definitely remember the game,” senior guard Jon Scheyer said. “You do remember parts of what people say.”

Anyone think those quotes might have found their way onto the Duke locker room bulletin boards? Maybe?

“Yeah, yeah, I'm sure I am,” Thoroughman said Friday. “But that doesn't bother me too much. That's OK with me.”

Thoroughman said his ’08 comments weren’t “supposed to be for the media. I didn't mean to disrespect anybody.” But he did. And you can be sure that Duke is making a big deal about it, as every team would in that situation.

“Of course we want to beat a team that knocked us out two years ago,” Scheyer said. “Who wouldn’t? That’s our approach.”

Duke certainly will be eager to show how much it has grown up since that whipping in Washington, D.C. Especially inside. The finesse Blue Devils team that was mauled on the backboard then looks much more rugged now.

Duke has pulled down a whopping 63 offensive rebounds on 125 missed shots this NCAA tournament and is a plus-45 on the glass through four games. The Devils’ two senior big men, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, have gotten bigger and better, and they are buttressed by brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee off the bench.

“They’re a lot more aggressive on the boards this year, especially offensively,” said West Virginia’s Da'Sean Butler. “Zoubek and Lance Thomas and (Kyle) Singler do a great job of just attacking offensive boards. For us to be successful this year, I believe we need to neutralize that, make sure we don’t let them get to the offensive glass as much as they usually do. Coach said they’re the best on the offensive glass that we’ve played all year.”

The Mountaineers, of course, aren’t too bad in that department either. Ken Pomeroy’s stats rate them the No. 2 offensive rebounding team in the country. So this figures to be quite the Toughman Contest in the paint.

The question is this: If it tilts West Virginia’s way again, will Mazzulla slap the floor once more?

“Depends on how the game goes,” he said.

A Final Four devoid of superstars

April, 2, 2010
ButlerAP Photo/Michael ConroyFor Butler and the other Final Four participants it's all about the team.
INDIANAPOLIS -- There are strange creatures running around here at Lucas Oil Stadium, oddities so rare in college basketball that they ought to be studied for scientific merit: teams.

That’s to say, instead of a collection of superstar players here for a college hoops fly-by, there are five guys who recognize the sum of the parts is stronger than the strengths of the individual.

In what is almost always the coming-out party for the next big thing, there is no next big thing in Indianapolis.

Not a single one-and-done, not a single consensus All-American.

According to Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, this marks only the third time in the past 27 years that the Final Four will be played without a consensus All-American on the court.

“You’re not looking at a bunch of Carmelo Anthonys,’’ MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “You’re looking at a bunch of teams where the fifth guy is maybe as good as the first guy. I don’t think anyone is anywhere near where North Carolina was last year.’’

Certainly the constant shuffle at the top of the rankings and the wildly unpredictable upsets throughout this tournament has borne that fact out.

But there could be more at work here than an unstable field.

The glory of being the most coveted player or worse, freshman, comes with a price. Swirling rumors, constant questions and fending off (or not) agents who want to secure their cut in advance can make a college season nothing more than a pesky way to fill the day.

“It’s my favorite word of the year – distractions,’’ Izzo said. “We’ve got some great superstars playing college basketball but too many of them are looking too far down the road instead of the task at hand.’’

Indeed it was the distractions, not his desire to leave, that forced West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks to call a timeout last year.

“Devin, a year ago, never thought about it,’’ WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “Devin had a meeting because I think all the circulation was about him leaving. He came back and just said, ‘How do we stop this?'"

Some people, understandably, will hate this sort of Final Four. They want an NBA all-rookie team when it comes down to the final weekend of the college season.

But others, purists maybe, will revel in a chance to watch a different brand of basketball, one predicated on team play. Count Huggins among the latter group and understandably so. His West Virginia team is a classic example of a group that has aged well over time.

“I think the offseason is really important and when you have guys who are coming and going, you don’t get that time together as a team,’’ Joe Mazzulla said. “I mean, in Morgantown there’s not a lot to do and pretty much everyone who lives there is a college student. In the summer, everyone clears out so it’s really just us. We’re stuck together, but that’s where the chemistry comes from.’’

West Virginia yuks it up all night long

March, 28, 2010
From start to finish in the game that got West Virginia to the Final Four, the Mountaineers never quite broke character in staying loose and ultimately had their fun against Kentucky.

It began as soon as they took the floor for the biggest game of their lives, with that simple act being turned into a prank, according to the Charleston Daily Mail:
The pep band played their song. The fans sprang suddenly to their feet and cheered. Jonnie West was first to squeak his sneakers across the floor. Then came Cam Payne.

And that was it.

"Once we saw Jonnie and Cam go out there, we stopped to see how far they'd go before they noticed," said point guard Joe Mazzulla, who with teammate Cam Thoroughman orchestrated this Elite Eight prank.

West and Payne eventually realized it and Mazzulla and Thoroughman led the rest of the laughing Mountaineers toward tipoff against Kentucky.

And after the win, it was atop the scorer's table where West Virginia's John Flowers did a famous flex, according to Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times:
Flowers did the "John Wall Dance," moves that gained national popularity during the Kentucky guard's dynamic freshman season. Soon after, several of his Mountaineers teammates joined him in celebration and ridicule. West Virginia, full of hardened, underrated athletes, couldn't resist making sure the world understood what it had done.

Mazzulla turns in game of his life

March, 28, 2010
Darryl Bryant's practice injury could've been a devastating blow to West Virginia's title hopes.

But Joe Mazzulla had other ideas.

In an upset of John Wall and 1-seed Kentucky, Mazzulla turned in the most memorable performance of his career.