Roughly 24 hours before tipoff, it appears that WVU will be without the services of starting guards Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff. The left-handed Mazzulla, a junior, initially injured his dominant shoulder in a collision with Ole Miss forward Malcolm White in West Virginia's win over the Rebels on December 3. After missing the Cleveland State game , Mazzulla returned to the lineup for the start of Tuesday's loss to Davidson, only to take another hit to the same shoulder before leaving the game around the midway point of the first half.
Ruoff, West Virginia's lone senior, injured his right (dominant) shoulder in last weekend's win over Cleveland State. He did not play against Davidson.
On Friday afternoon, WVU Head Coach Bob Huggins sounded pessimistic when asked for a status update on his starting backcourt
"It's about the same. I don't think it's changed very much," he said. "I would anticipate that they wouldn't go. If they heal up in 24 hours, then that's another story. I think that the way it is right now, I don't think they can go."
With both players out of the lineup, expect forward Da'Sean Butler to see extended time in the backcourt for the third straight game. Butler, who leads West Virginia in scoring with an average of 15.8 points per game, has proven to be more than capable of spending some time at the point when freshman floor general Darryl "Truck" Bryant is not in the lineup.
Though Butler is naturally a forward, his ballhandling ability and knowledge of Huggins's five-out motion offense makes the position switch easy for him. It's getting the other four players on the court to handle different roles which has the attention of Huggins and his coaching staff.
"It's just harder to make adjustments," he said of shuffling around a lineup that does not include two of his most experienced players. "Moving Da'Sean isn't a problem because Da'Sean knows what he's doing. But then you have to move Devin Ebanks or Kevin Jones if he is in the game. Then, Truck has to understand other people's responsibilities to be able to make his looks. It's not like you're just running one thing and that guy gets open."
Speeding up the learning process for Bryant especially has been and will continue to be crucial for as long as Mazzulla is out. For the most part, the Brooklyn native has played well through the first eight games of his collegiate career. With Mazzulla out, however, Bryant's role obviously increases.
"If the defense jams something up, then somebody else ought to be open or if they over-help, somebody ought to be open," Huggins explained. "He's got to make those reads. That's what Darris (Nichols) did so well a year ago and that's what Joe was starting to understand. We just have to get Truck to do that. It's hard on the fly."
West Virginia has won five straight over Duquesne, four of which have come against Fairmont native Ron Everhart. To keep the streak alive, WVU will have to slow down Dukes guard Aaron Jackson, who scored a career-high 36 points on 15-17 shooting in a win over Radford Wednesday night.
Though the Mountaineers just prepared for a talented scorer in Davidson's Stephen Curry, Huggins says the two players are not similar.
"I think they're totally different," he said. "Curry is more of a jump shooter. Jackson made some threes (against Radford) and he's very capable of making threes, but I think his strength is attacking the rim."
The Dukes are devoid of height, but play a four-guard lineup that could give the Mountaineers fits.
"They're going to be hard to play because they play four guards," Huggins said. "They play four guards and a 6-7 post guy with perimeter skills. They all shoot the three and they all drive it at the basket. It's a different kind of match-up for us than we have faced recently.
"We work every day on guarding. Hopefully we can do what we do in practice every day."