Ugly American

American University was picked to win the Patriot League in the conference's preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors. West Virginia made the Eagles look like an also-ran Wednesday night at the Coliseum, jumping out to a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes of a 71-50 win.

The team's first home game since the season-opener against Oakland on Nov. 12 was never much of a contest, as Bob Huggins' squad took control early. American never got back within less than 10 points of the Mountaineers once the hosts went up 15-4 on a Kevin Jones jump shot with 12:24 left in the opening half.

That Jones jumper was part of an early 13-2 run that left the Eagles playing catch-up all night. But thanks again to the efforts of WVU senior guard Casey Mitchell, American never got back within striking distance.

Mitchell, the surprise of the Mountaineers' season thus far, again led his team with 27 points. After scoring in double digits only twice and averaging 3.7 points per game in the 2009-10 campaign, the Savannah, Ga., native has scored at least 25 points in each of West Virginia's last four games.

But it was the way in which the former national junior college player of the year got to 27 that made Wednesday's performance noteworthy.

Perceived by many as just an outside shooting threat, Mitchell only made one 3-pointer all night, adding seven field goals from inside the arc and a 10-of-11 performance at the foul line.

"He didn't do that in junior college," Huggins said. "I think it's a product, to a large degree, of watching somebody like [former WVU star] Da'Sean [Butler] and the success Da' had."

Mitchell again made it easy for the Mountaineers, scoring 14 points in the first half (no other player on either team had any more than seven at the intermission) and even showing a bit of defensive moxie by adding three steals and an impressive block.

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But that's a double-edged sword for Huggins, who has openly said his team must improve on its ability to run effective sets in the half-court offense if it hopes to come close to achieving the results of the 2009-10 West Virginia team.

Mitchell's stellar play, pivotal though it may be to the squad's success, could be stifling the development in that area.

Huggins often reminded his players last year that they had to do more than just watch the aforementioned Butler perform heroics. At this rate, the Mountaineers may have to avoid that temptation with Mitchell as well

"As long as he keeps doing it, they can watch him all they want," joked the head coach, who moved into the top 20 of all-time victories among Division I head coaches, tying Louisville's Denny Crum with 675 career wins.

"We just don't have good ball movement right now. Everybody holds the ball too long. I'll tell you what we're really good at. We're really good at shooting ones we shouldn't shoot, not shooting ones we should, throwing the ball into traffic, mishandling the ball. We've mastered those. Now we've got to move from there."

Jones had 16 points for the Mountaineers (5-1) and point guard Truck Bryant (who started after being held out of the line-up by Huggins against VMI) added nine more points and four assists.

If the half-court offense is still a work in progress, Huggins can at least be pleased with the WVU defense.

After allowing its first four opponents of the year to score more than 70 points (something that happened just 11 times in all of 2009-10), West Virginia has held its last two foes, VMI and American, to under 70.

The Eagles (5-2) turned the ball over 14 times and assisted on only nine field goals. They shot only 36.7 percent from the field (18-of-49), and like every other WVU opponent this season, struggled to convert from 3-point range (VMI's 26.9 percent accuracy rate is the best of any Mountaineer foe thus far), hitting only three of their 15 shots from beyond the arc.

Star forward Vlad Moldoveanu did manage 19 points (the only Eagle in double figures), but he needed 17 shots from the field to get to that point.

Head coach Jeff Jones' squad scored only 20 points in the first half and was frustrated all night by Huggins' trademark man-to-man defense.

"We didn't shoot the ball well, but some of that has to do with West Virginia," Jones admitted. "They're very long, and Bob's teams always do well on the defensive end."

Predictably, Huggins still wasn't totally pleased.

"I honestly thought defensively we were pretty good," he said. "I thought our help was good. We did a good job of helping. We did a better job of recovering. We're still not great at help and recover. We lost some guys -- we lost the wrong guys, really, a couple of times. We've got to be able to help, recover and then rebound. They had ... 14 offensive rebounds. That's way too much."

Huggins and company will try to apply some of those lessons before hitting the road for a game against Miami (Fla.) on Saturday afternoon. The Hurricanes are 5-2 overall and coming in off a 13-point win over Ole Miss.

"They're a really good team," Huggins said. "We're going to play a lot of really good teams on the road, and you've got to figure out ways to win. I think we had more road wins than anybody in the NCAA a year ago.

"I've told you this -- when I asked Al McGwire years ago, ‘When did you know you really had it going at Marquette?' He said, ‘When you can walk into any venue with no fear, you've arrived.' I don't foresee us walking in there afraid."


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