Basketball Notebook

Everyone knew that West Virginia head coach John Beilein would be forced to play a lot of youngsters this season. What we didn't know is that they'd be playing so well early on.

Take freshman point guard Joe Mazzulla, for instance. The Johnston, R.I. native was slotted in as the back-up at point guard for Darris Nichols from the day he stepped on campus. Being one of only two point guards on the roster, Mazzulla had to learn as much of Beilein's system as he could prior to the start of the season.

Through two games, the floor general has looked very comfortable running the offense once he gets into the game.

"When I go in there, I've just got to run the team and do what Coach Beilein tells me to, which is run the team, don't turnover the ball, and play good defense," Mazzulla explained. "I've done alright, not too bad. We're a young team and we have a lot to work on, but we get better everyday."

In Tuesday night's blowout victory over Division II Slippery Rock, Mazzulla and the rest of his freshmen teammates got invaluable experience for the rest of the season by playing heavy minutes.

"We're such a young team that no matter who we're playing, we're going to get game experience and all of the young guys can get a better feel for the atmosphere and get used to everything," he says. "That way, a couple of weeks down the road if we get pressed into a lot of action we can't say that we haven't been there before."

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While the duo of Nichols and Mazzulla have given West Virginia a solid combination at point guard, the same can be said for sophomore Alex Ruoff and freshman Devan Bawinkel at shooting guard. Ruoff has shown himself to be a very capable defender so far, as well as a guy who can score points when need be.

When Alex needs a breather, Bawinkel enters the lineup with his calm demeanor and silky smooth jump shot. One thing that Devan has that cannot be taught is a lightning-quick release to his shot. Bawinkel is seemingly in the perfect system for his skills.

"This is definitely a great offense for me, because I definitely have opportunities to score, make good passes, and make good plays," explained the Winnebago, Ill. native. "I still have to learn (the offense). I'm finding my spots, though, and it's really tough to guard when you've got the big men setting screens for me. I've come quite a ways so far."

Bawinkel wears number 15, hails from a small town in the Midwest, has a lightning-quick release to his shot, and looks very comfortable running off screens, catching the pass and shooting. Jimmy Chitwood, anybody?

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Through two games, the Mountaineers have given up just 79 total points. While the teams they've been playing aren't exactly UCLA or Georgetown, the fact that West Virginia has had a lot of defensive success early bodes well for the rest of the season.

One player who has been all over the floor defensively is freshman forward Da'Sean Butler. The Newark, N.J. product has spent a lot of time at the top of the 1-3-1 zone, which was seemingly tailor-made for the athletic sixth man.

"I like it, until I get tired," Butler said with a chuckle. "It's fun, though. You get a lot of steals and you get a good read of what the other team is doing. Once you do that, you react to what they are doing. From the beginning of practice until now, my reaction time has gotten so much better, and so has my overall defense."

The early success is nice, he admits, but there is still plenty of work to do.

"You always want to improve defense," explained the well-spoken Butler. "The more deflections and the more steals that you get, the more opportunities you'll have to score points."

As for his role of sixth man, Da'Sean doesn't mind it one bit.

"I played the sixth man role in high school for two years, so it's not a big deal to me at all. When I come in the game, I've seen what my teammates have done and I try not to make mistakes.

"You don't want to start the game overwhelmed, and when you come off of the bench you have a good idea of what's going on."

So far, Butler and his Mountaineer teammates have played well. Will it continue tomorrow against Canisius? Check back after the game.


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