Notebook: WVU - Clemson

TAMPA, Fla. -- The following is a collection of notes, quotes and observations from Wednesday's media availability and open practice at the St. Pete Times Forum pertaining to West Virginia's match-up with Clemson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

  • While much of the national focus surrounding this game is on the lightning-fast turnaround for Clemson (which did not arrive in Tampa until around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday after winning its First Four game against UAB in Dayton, Ohio), the situation was also far from ideal for the Mountaineers.

    Players and WVU head coach Bob Huggins said time was spent preparing for both the Tigers and UAB after the bracket was first announced Sunday night.

    But because Huggins didn't want to confuse players by trying to fully prepare them for two opponents at once -- "I probably think too much," he said dryly -- he also ensured much of the team's practice time was focused on some deficiencies he had noticed in his own team's play as of late.

    "We tried to concentrate on some things that I didn't think we were doing very well defensively," Huggins said. "Then we tried to concentrate on some things where we could score the ball maybe a little bit easier. And we did kind of a little bit of what both teams do."

    Beyond that, Huggins also tried to find common traits of both the Blazers and Clemson and focused on those factors in the limited time he had to prepare his players.

    "We just worked on defensive transition. We worked on ball screens, and we worked on handling pressure," said Mountaineer guard Joe Mazzulla. "That's what both teams did. Then today in practice, we focused [solely] on Clemson."

  • In that study of the Tigers (22-11), a few traits continually came to the attention of the WVU players. After watching a complete Clemson game on television (that team's 70-52 win in a First Four game Tuesday night), those same strengths were that much more evident, according the Mountaineers.

    "They really look to extend their pressure at the half court [line]," Mazzulla said. "From the film, and from the UAB game last night, they really had UAB run their offense at half court. We have to handle that pressure. We don't want them to push us to half court."

    "They go out and pressure teams, and they make teams turn the ball over," said junior forward Kevin Jones. "Like Joe said, we've got to handle their pressure and we can't throw them the ball, because that's where they thrive -- in transition. If we handle the ball and we handle the pressure, we'll be fine."

  • When it comes to the quick turnaround and the late-night arrival of the Tigers, Huggins said it was comparable to the experience his 2009 WVU team faced before its first round NCAA Tournament game against Dayton.

    "We didn't play [just before that], but we had a plane that never got there," the head coach said of the situation that left his team stranded at the Clarksburg airport for hours on end, delaying its arrival in Minneapolis until the wee hours.

    "We didn't get in there until 5:00 in the morning in Minneapolis. [It was] very much the same kind of deal, although we didn't play a game [before]."

    But Huggins noted that athletes, particularly younger ones, are often more resilient than they are given credit for.

    "Kids today, they play at 2:00, and they go get a hamburger and french fries and a chocolate shake and they come back and play at 6:00," he said. "It's kind of a different breed of athletes, I think. I think [Clemson] will be fine."

  • West Virginia practiced early Wednesday afternoon at a local high school, in what might be called its "real" practice, before heading over the the St. Pete Times Forum for what is truly a glorified shootaround in front of fans.

    The intensity of what the NCAA officially calls the school's "open practice" was predictably light. Most players focused almost entirely on just getting shots up and enjoying the moment.

    But Mountaineer assistant coach Erik Martin and WVU big man Deniz Kilicli stayed on one end of the floor for about two-thirds of the 40 minute period working on offensive fundamentals in the post, including proper release of his jump shot when spinning to his right (Martin saw that the ball was spinning off Kilicli's hand thanks to the centrifugal force of the spin move and not coming off with a clean, straight follow through as it should).

    When Martin wasn't working with Kilicli, he and fellow assistant coach Larry Harrison were busy reminding them of one oft-repeated Huggins saying: "Make shots." The two assistants sounded like a broken record at times in providing the most fundamental of advice to their players.

    Among those in attendance for the session was former WVU football tight end Anthony Becht, who played for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2005-07 and is still in pro football with the Arizona Cardinals.

    Becht made his way close to the court and shook hands with Huggins, offering his best wishes.

  • The Mountaineers might look the same to most observers tomorrow, but a couple of more subtle touches to their aesthetics will be noticeable to the eagle-eyed.

    First, players plan to wear a new edition of the Air Max Fly By being promoted by Nike. It sports a unique combination of WVU's signature colors, with a largely gold front section, a white midsection with a subtle pattern resembling a basketball net, and a blue heel.

    Every WVU player with the exception of Casey Mitchell (who is instead opting for another new Nike model) will wear the shoes.

    But that doesn't mean Mitchell won't stand out. In fact, his new haircut should be far more noticeable to the average observer than the team's shoes.

    The new 'do, the work of his barber Rod at "The Shop" on High Street, features a unique pattern cut into the sides of his head. It's something he said the barber did entirely on his own.

    "I have had the 'W.V.' and my number before, but I didn't want that this time," Mitchell said. "So I told my barber to do something freestyle. I wasn't nervous, but I didn't know he was going to do something like this. When he finished I was like 'Dang. That's crazy.'"

    It was a bold gambit from Mitchell, who knew he would be sporting his new look on national television and didn't have a contingency plan if the cut had gone poorly.

    "I am not going bald," the senior guard said.

    Casey Mitchell's new hairdo

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