Remember the scene in Austin Powers when Dr. Evil tells Powers, "You know…we're not so different, you and I."
Perhaps in his pregame chat with St. John's head coach Norm Roberts on Wednesday night at the Coliseum, West Virginia's Bob Huggins can say the same thing. To be sure, Roberts' Red Storm and Huggins' Mountaineers certainly have a lot in common heading into the mid-week matchup in Morgantown.
For starters, literally, both schools have lost veteran players due to injury this season. St. John's standout Anthony Mason Jr. played in just three games for the Red Storm before breaking a bone in his leg, which put him on the shelf for the remainder of the year. West Virginia, of course, is still without the services of junior point guard Joe Mazzulla, who injured his shoulder against Ole Miss on December 3 and has essentially been out since.
Despite Mazzulla's efforts to rehabilitate the growth plate fracture in his left shoulder over the past month and a half, it is becoming increasingly apparent that his season likely ended with a brief six-minute cameo against Davidson on December 9, when the Johnston, R.I. native started, but took a second shot to the injured limb which forced him from that game and every other since.
"We're waiting to see, but in all probability, yeah," Huggins said when asked if Mazzulla would end up with a medical redshirt for 2008-09. "It depends on how his shoulder is and how it responds, but right now it doesn't look like he'll play.
"It's a total rest situation."
The two teams are also similar in that they rely heavily on young players to produce for them. West Virginia, of course, plays three freshmen and two sophomores in its eight-man rotation.
In Mason's absence, a trio of talented sophomores has filled the void for the Red Storm. Paris Horne, an athletic swingman who spends time at both guard and forward, leads the way for St. John's with an average of 14 points per game. Horne has improved drastically over his freshman campaign, particularly when it comes to perimeter shooting. The Middletown, Del. Native is shooting a team-best 38 percent from downtown.
Pittsburgh native D.J. Kennedy, a high school teammate of Pitt star DeJuan Blair, averages 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds per game. Justin Burrell does a little bit of everything for Roberts' team. The difference between West Virginia's young players and those of St. John's is that the trio of Burrell, Horne and Kennedy all played heavy minutes last season.
""They are a lot like us in that they're young, but they have sophomores who have already been through a Big East season," Huggins explained on Tuesday. "(Justin) Burrell, Paris (Horne) are guys who have been through it.
"These are talented guys," he said of the Red Storm players. "I think Horne was 12 for 13 at Rutgers (in a win on Saturday), and Burrell is like in the top two of every statistical category they have."
The major difference between WVU and St. John's is the end results. The Mountaineers are 14-5 and will likely be in play for another berth in the NCAA tournament. St. John's is 11-8, but isn't on anybody's list of potential bubble teams. At the most, the Red Storm could make a trip to the NIT, which would at least be a step in the right direction for Roberts, who signed a five-year extension in the offseason.
A lot of the trouble for St. John's has come on the road, where it is winless in four tries this season. The Red Storm has lost seven of its last nine overall after a promising 9-1 start to the season.
"Teams on losing streaks are usually young teams," Huggins said. "A lot of that comes down to not being able to sustain things like playing defense for the whole shot clock, running your offense clear through until you get a good shot and getting out of the offense — basically staying the course."
St. John's isn't the only "storm" making its way into Morgantown this week. On Tuesday, winter showers left several inches of snow in north-central West Virginia. City streets are a mess in the University City. In a rare move, WVU officials made the decision cancel Tuesday evening classes. Another one to two inches of snow is expected to accumulate in Morgantown tomorrow.