WVU: DePaul is a must win
Struggling Blue Demons have lost 23-straight Big East games
Published: Thursday, February 10, 2011
Updated: Thursday, February 10, 2011 22:02
To some, DePaul may seem like the easiest team the West Virginia men's basketball will face in its final seven regular season games.
But in the Mountaineers Jan. 4 matchup against the Blue Demons, WVU could only escape Chicago with a 67-65 victory.
West Virginia doesn't expect it to be any easier when DePaul visits Morgantown Saturday, or for the rest of the team's regular season schedule, for that matter.
Five of the Mountaineers' final seven games come against ranked opponents, three of which are currently ranked inside the top 10. The teams have a combined 117-49 record this season.
"Nothing is going to come easy for us for the rest of the year," said WVU point guard Joe Mazzulla.
With a 15-8 overall mark and a 6-5 record in the Big East Conference, Mazzulla said the team must treat all of its remaining games like they are must-win games.
West Virginia has lost three of its last five games, but hasn't fallen to an unranked opponent since Jan. 1 when it lost to Marquette. WVU fell on the road at No. 12 Villanova on Feb. 5 and blew a late lead at home against No. 7 Pittsburgh Monday, a game in which West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said his team was "outmanned".
The Mountaineers are currently in a three-way tie for eighth place in the conference standings with Cincinnati and Marquette. A loss to the Blue Demons could send WVU down to twelfth.
"I wouldn't say we're down on ourselves, but we definitely have to make some kind of change between (Monday) and Saturday," said WVU forward Kevin Jones. "We have to get back to being the team we were a couple of games ago when we were playing as a team instead of playing like individuals."
One individual could play a bigger role in the team's success down the final stretch of the season, however. Center Deniz Kilicli scored a career-high 19 points against the Panthers and center Gary McGhee, who the Mountaineers called one of the best post defenders in the Big East.
After the loss, Huggins and his players said they want to run more offense through Kilicli to counter the Mountaineers' poor outside shooting. But, as solid as the sophomore may be offensively, he still has to improve defensively, as well.
"One thing that we have to pump into Deniz's head is, as much as he helps us on offense, he has to help us on defense, too," Mazzulla said.
The Mountaineers have just a two-day turnaround before they travel to Syracuse to face the No. 14 Orange at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 14. The team then faces Notre Dame at home on Feb. 19. The Irish are currently second in the Big East with a 20-5 overall record.
"This league is tough. It's unforgiving," Jones said. "But it's not over in our minds. We still have seven games left in the Big East. We definitely have a chance to turn the season back around, and that starts on Saturday against DePaul."