Pirate Redux

After a blowout loss at the hands of powerful Georgetown on Monday night, the Mountaineer men's basketball team returns home after a five day layoff for a Saturday game against the Seton Hall Pirates.

The meeting between West Virginia and Seton Hall will be the second time the respective teams have squared off in the past two weeks. The Mountaineers defeated the Pirates by a final of 81-70 two Saturdays ago in East Rutherford, N.J. Though the February 3rd win was important for John Beilein's club, the head coach doesn't feel that it will matter much when the ball is tipped tomorrow afternoon.

"You hope your team is ready for almost anything, but you guess a little bit," Beilein told reporters on Friday afternoon. "It was a close game. I think it ended up being ten, but it was very close and could have gone either way. They missed some shots, and we made some tough shots. We'll have to do the same thing here."

One good thing for Beilein's bunch is that they won't have to spend hours upon hours preparing for a new, unfamiliar opponent. Having just played the Pirates a fortnight ago, the Blue and Gold won't be surprised by much – if anything – that first-year SHU head coach Bobby Gonzalez tries to throw their way.

"I think that the first time (you play a team during the season) is always harder to prepare, but I don't think it's any easier to beat them the second time," said Beilein. "Preparing should be a bit easier because of the fact that your players aren't pouring over scouting reports. They'll remember these kids, and three out of our next four games are all repeats. Hopefully we'll be able to do a good job, and I think that generally we've done a good job in those types of situations, but you never know."

One reason for West Virginia's success during the first meeting was the play of junior point guard Darris Nichols. The first-year starter had 16 points and four rebounds while going 10-10 from the foul line in the win over SHU. For the Mountaineers to play well down the stretch, Nichols will have to have more performances like the one in East Rutherford two weeks ago.

"Darris has been terrific," said the head coach. "(Other teams) really try to take the ball out of Darris's hands as much as they can to make Al handle it. I thought that Al did a great job as well (against Seton Hall). They'll (deny Nichols the ball), but we hope that Joe Mazzulla will be able to give us some minutes, and Ted Talkington will give us some minutes to give those guys a rest. They didn't have much rest in that game, and maybe we can give them a little bit more rest (tomorrow)."

Mazzulla returned to action on Monday night after missing five games with a deep thigh bruise suffered in win over in-state nemesis Marshall. His presence will lift a bit of pressure off of Nichols as far as playing time is concerned. Though he's not back to full speed yet, Beilein has been pushing his rookie hard in practice since his return Monday night.

"We've been pushing him really hard in practice, just to test his legs out and just get his heart rate up. I think it would be a mistake to tell him to go in there and play ten (minutes) straight. We'll give him spots here and there because as we get closer to the Big East Tournament, we're going to need that. You're going to need that help in the backcourt.

The Mountaineers are coming off of a stretch in which they played three top-15 teams in a span of just five days. West Virginia sandwiched a non-conference win over then-No. 2 UCLA with losses to Pitt and Georgetown. Having been out of game action since Monday night, Beilein hopes that his players are rested up for Saturday. The fifth-year head coach did his part in making sure his players were well-rested by giving them a day off earlier in the week.

"We got to take a day off on Wednesday, but we practiced pretty well yesterday," Beilein noted. "Today I think we'll have a good workout, but it will be shorter than yesterday. We're pretty young, and I think that you bounce back a little bit quicker if you're young. We gave Frank and Darris and the guys that have been playing huge minutes more time than even the other guys had."

To beat the Pirates and reach the magical 20-win mark for the regular season, West Virginia must turn in another solid performance similar to the first meeting between the two schools. If not, the Pirates could be forcing the Mountaineers to walk the plank.

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