PoG: WVU - American

It's becoming a bit redundant watching Casey Mitchell lead the WVU men's basketball team in scoring. If Mitchell continues to produce at this rate, observers may have to stop calling these performances "surprising."

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Casey Mitchell.

The surprise star of the early season continued to build on the momentum he generated for himself at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and in the Mountaineers' win over VMI at the Charleston Civic Center on Saturday.

For the fourth-straight outing, the senior from Savannah, Ga., had 25 or more points. In one of the more staggering statistics this scribe has ever seen, through the first six games of 2010, Mitchell has scored more points (134) than he did while playing in 35 games as a junior last season (130).

But it's not just the totals that are impressive anymore. It's the way Mitchell is scoring. Only three of his 27 points Wednesday night came from a 3-point shot. He added a 10-of-11 performance at the foul line and a 7-of-8 outing from inside the arc -- both signs of just how improved his overall game is.

He even added three steals (going coast-to-coast for an easy slam dunk after pick-pocketing an American player on one possession) and an impressive block in the lane, showing a bit of defensive prowess after being maligned by head coach Bob Huggins for his efforts on that end of the floor a year ago.

It's still early, and Mitchell said as much in media interviews last week. The senior knows he will need to continue to play at a high level to fulfill the promise he had coming into Morgantown last year as the reigning national junior college player of the year.

But if early returns are any indication, Mitchell truly made great strides in his game this offseason and is ready for a special senior season.

NET BURNERS:

  • Kevin Jones.

    Outside of Mitchell, it was the team's star junior forward who accounted for much of WVU's offense. He had 16 points and five rebounds. While he didn't account for any blocks, steals or assists, he didn't turn the ball over either.

    Jones was widely expected to have to shoulder the bulk of the load offensively for this year's WVU team. But Mitchell's emergence has postponed the need for that, and the Mount Vernon, N.Y., native has benefitted.



    Kevin Jones
    He's been able to work as a bit of a "garbage man," much in the same way he did a season ago. Three of Jones' five boards came on the offensive end, and as he is apt to do, the forward turned them into points. He was a big reason why the Mountaineers had a 15-6 edge in second-chance points at game's end.

    The time will come for Jones to emerge as more of a scorer, but for now, he's doing exactly what needs to be done -- letting the game come to him, not forcing anything and reaping the benefits of Mitchell's scoring outbursts.

    Whenever a team finally decides to double team Mitchell, they may have to deal with a bit more of Jones' wrath. But the preseason first-team all-Big East selection has shown his basketball IQ in the opening weeks of the season, even if his scoring totals are a bit lower than some may have expected.

  • Defensive intensity.

    Though Huggins is still displeased with his team's lack of prowess in the half-court offense -- listing a series of miscues before saying his players have "mastered" them -- he has to be pleased with the turnaround his Mountaineers have made on the defensive end.

    West Virginia didn't look like a Huggins-coached team earlier this year, allowing its first four opponents to top the 70-point mark. But against a VMI team that was lauded for its ability to play uptempo offense, WVU finally held an opponent under that threshold. That trend continued Wednesday against the American Eagles (no puns about popular clothing brands, please).

    The Eagles scored only 50 points, 20 in the decisive first half. They didn't make a single 3-point shot in the opening 20 minutes and hit only 20 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc for the night.

    Only one American player had more than nine points, and only two had more than six.

    Sure, the drop in the level of competition has something to do with this defensive turnaround. But Huggins' players look much more impressive on that end of the floor than they did in the first few weeks of the season.

    And until West Virginia starts playing better half-court offense, the team will need its defense to play well in case Mitchell has an inevitable off night.

  • Deniz Kilicli.

    The sophomore is struggling mentally, as he has been asked by Huggins to do a lot more on both ends of the floor than he had to a year ago. He admitted as much afterwards.

    But while the Istanbul, Turkey, native's games aren't quite as pretty as they were a season ago, there are some signs he could be beginning to wrap his head around his added responsibilities.

    Kilicli passed the ball well out of the post, freeing up opportunities for Mitchell, Jones and other Mountaineers when the American defense collapsed on him in the low block. His defense, while still not great, is improving as well.

    His ability to generate a decent output even on a rough night like Wednesday shows that his game is, indeed progressing. Kilicli had eight points, four rebounds, and assist and a block in his 17 minutes of action.

    That's not to say things are perfect by any stretch. Kilicli, left open by an Eagle who clearly had read the scouting report on the big man, attempted a 3-pointer in the second half. The outcome was already decided, but Huggins used it as a teaching moment anyway, pulling the sophomore out and quietly explaining to him just what was wrong with that decision.

    "For right now, he's just got to do what he can do," Huggins said to a reporter afterwards. "But to answer your question, he is confused ... he's overwhelmed right now with a lot of stuff."


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