One more shot

March 30, 2015 by Mike Casazza

You should watch to the end, because that’s what you did around Hot Rod Hundley. You watched and listened, for as long as he was willing to go. Such a kind and fun man, and such a loss. I’ll never forget that, and I think that’s one of the best, most authentic and most excited responses I’ve ever heard in the Coliseum. An unforgettable moment from an unforgettable guy.

“For him to top it off in making the shot showed how much of a showman he really is and how good he was,” Wells said. “I don’t think Rod had any doubt he would make it.”

Nearman, himself a Charleston hoops great who played at North Carolina from 1947-50, couldn’t help but talk about that moment when reminiscing about Hundley.

“There was no indication he could make it,” Nearman said. “He was in a full suit and he was really far away from where he would’ve taken that shot during a game, but that’s Rod. That’s always been our Hot Rod.”

There was a brief moment of silence and melancholy, but it was fleeting. Always has been when it comes to Hundley. Always will be.

“I’m still laughing,” Nearman said. “I’m laughing because I know what he felt right at that moment.”

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March Madness alive at WVU

March 30, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Bob Huggins’ season is done, and while it was one that saw West Virginia thrive because opponents had to find ways to handle the Mountaineers, this offseason is one that ought to include finding ways for WVU to handle itself.

Meanwhile, Mike Carey’s season continues, and not only that, but he’s not playing postseason games in hostile territory. Those Mountaineers will play host to the NIT semifinal Wednesday in a 7 p.m. game against Temple, that after WVU won at home in overtime against Villanova.

“It was a great team effort and our seniors weren’t ready to go home,” said coach Mike Carey. “I thought the effort by the seniors down the stretch was really good. Villanova is tough to guard and they’re pretty good. Emily Leer is pretty good. We were fortunate to win the game, and we were happy to win the game. It was a great crowd. We couldn’t have come back from five down without the crowd.”
West Virginia finished the game shooting 42.6 percent (26-of-61) from the field, while Villanova knocked down 41.3 percent (26-of-63). VU, one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, knocked down nine triples in the game. The Mountaineers out-rebounded the Wildcats 47-34 in the contest and outscored Villanova 18-9 in second chance opportunities.

 

Medicine usually tastes horrible

March 27, 2015 by Mike Casazza

West Virginia’s locker room was a fun place to be the past two weeks, a reality I’m sure you can understand having watched, listened to or read about the Mountaineers throughout this season. Believe it or not, there was a buzz inside those doors again Thursday night, that after the humbling and historic demolition at the hands of this Kentucky juggernaut.

For the first 10 or so minutes the locker room was open to the media, Daxter Miles was nowhere to be found. If you thought there was blood in the water before, you should have sensed the coming rip job rising against the freshman from Baltimore who was, at best, taking his time and getting himself together. At worst — and let’s be honest, this is what everyone paying attention was assuming — Miles was hiding to avoid the inevitable.

Assistant coach Erik Martin seemed to intervene. He spoke to Miles, and Miles soon dropped down into a chair and sort of faced the music. Every time the topic was his 36-1 comment, every time he was asked to discuss the game, he used some version of “Kentucky played great.” He was better when talking about the season, the seniors, the strides the team has to take in the offseason, but he was undeniably wrought over what happened to him and to his team and likely how the two were tied together.

And let’s be clear about this: Kentucky thrived on its own Thursday night but also benefited from Miles and his mouth. The Wildcats didn’t hide from it after the game. They more or less thanked Miles — “We felt like that was nonsense, so we just came out and killed ‘em,” and that’s from Kentucky’s official website! — and I mean in word and deed.

(Aside: So proud the media hasn’t praised Kentucky or taken the Wildcats to task, or both, for not stating this before the game. I feel like we’re at that point.)

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WVU v. Kentucky: How the mighty will fall

March 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

mm

Ah, yes, remember the more innocent days when Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle back-cut and 3-point shot their way to the back pages? That was then, and this is now, and now you’ve got a collection of West Virginia players who’ve replaced bashful with brash, precise with punishing. But here’s the crazy thing: Gansey and Pittsnogle and the gang were in the city when they stole the headlines. Daxter Miles — and I’m certain he loves the nickname Mighty Mouth and might get a tattoo — was 450 miles away.

Is that the appeal of this team and this brand?

To me, that’s a question more deserving of my time than the ones I’ve answered and/or seen asked toady. I acknowledge that Miles became I headline. I don’t think he set out to do that. Big, big difference there if you’re one of the people wondering, “What was he thinking?” I get that those are the sort of words that become stories this time of the year and in this kind of a game, but it was an honest, innocent, albeit ill-timed reply that morphed into something much different. It’s like getting a layup blocked from behind. Thought it was going to be easy and never saw the other part coming.

I was shocked that people were shocked by what Miles said, but those are people who haven’t been around Miles all season, who don’t know he’s a 20-year-old freshman from Baltimore — “real Baltimore,” as he puts it — who prepped last season and did not like it. He’s the guy who appointed himself a starter this season because when WVU started practicing in the fall, Bob Huggins asked for five starters on the floor and Miles took the floor. He wasn’t going to wait for his spot. He was going to take it. In a way, this is that. In a way, this is Miles.

You had a bunch of reporters — I can’t put big enough quotes around that, so just imagine me with Mickey Mouse hands making air quotes … because, sheesh, if you saw the way the response-seeking was conducted, you’d cringe — who seemed offended by what Miles said and were racing to get to the Kentucky locker room. And here’s the best part: The Wildcats didn’t much care. They shrugged or chuckled and a few said, “Well, yeah, of course they want to win.” They’ve heard this all season … I guess, because, you know, I haven’t covered them all year. I won’t project on them. But I don’t believe bravado or gamesmanship is new to a 36-0 team. And if they’re rattled by what Miles said, Miles wins. He does, even if he wasn’t trying to win.

I’m not protecting Miles, either. He might have taken a bite when he needed to keep his lips tight. He might be undone by the reaction. But he might be inspired by that reaction. He might have rallied his teammates. And let’s not forget this might not matter to the Mountaineers at all. We’ll see. It’s silly to bury him because he dared to say he thought his team was going to win the game. They all think they’re going to win, and they aren’t into kissing the ring, which is normal as opposed to laudatory. He put his own words on it to make it look so good in print, but Miles has a wonderful habit of that, and I fear this episode may rob us of that.

And let’s be careful about calling it a guarantee, too. In a matter of words, he did guarantee it, because he said Kentucky’s leaving here 36-1 tonight, but he never used The G Word. He’s not Namath or Messier (or Pittsnogle!) and I think it’s important to designate that he never intended to be, either.

Disregarding the outcome on the scoreboard, the worst outcome tonight would be Miles scoring eight or nine points and playing 18 or 20 minutes — which is to say, Miles plays what amounts to an ordinary game — and people see it and say he was made to pay for what he said. Though I’m certain the Wildcats may play a little harder around Miles early on, there’s no chance Miles is the central figure in Kentucky’s scouting report or game plan.

As for my central figures, that’s be you. Early deadline again, head down, writing again.

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Been there, done this

March 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

The last time college basketball has an iconic team like this Kentucky juggernaut? Respect due to the 2010 Kentucky team or the Wildcats who won it all two years later. Apologies to the Florida squads that won back-to-back titles and the Butler teams that made the finals twice in a row. No offense to any of the great Duke teams or Arkansas and its 40 Minutes of Hell. St. Joe’s and Illinois? Wichita State? Other teams that strung together lengthy undefeated runs? Sorry!

The last time a team really captivated like this had to be the Fab Five, right? And Bob Huggins is the one privileged and possibly pained enough to get them both in the NCAA tournament.

“There are similarities because we’ve got a lot of newcomers,” Martin said. “I think the year we went to the Final Four we had five or six newcomers, guys who had never played D-I basketball, which is similar to this team.

“The only difference with the Final Four team was we were juniors and seniors, we were kind of like men and we knew what we were getting into. This team, you have Dax Miles, a freshman, Jevon Carter, a freshman, Devin Williams, a sophomore. Even Jaysean Paige and Jon Holton, this is their first year of D-I.”

Cincinnati couldn’t take down the Fab Five, but maybe Miles isn’t blowing smoke about WVU’s chances against UK. Although, keep in mind the Wildcats are winning games by an average of 20 points and have been subject to articles about the greatest college teams of all time, and whether or not UK could beat an NBA team.

“The mentality of this (WVU) team is similar to the mentality of the team in 1992 in that they’re very confident, and they are tough guys that think they have something to prove,” Harrison said. “The Cincinnati team didn’t have the most highly recruited guys; they had the junior college flavor that we have. It is all similar to this team, the toughness and the confidence, going up against a team that we supposedly don’t have a chance against.”

They know of what they speak

March 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

The fun part of yesterday’s media extravaganza that was mostly miserable for one specific reason was the identical manner West Virginia and Kentucky went back and forth with one another. Kentucky, blessed with all its size and talent, said opponents can prepare all they want for what the Wildcats possess, but it doesn’t matter until they’re on the floor and see and feel what they watched on film.

They’re right.

And the Mountaineers, known for their tenacity and their pressure defense, said opponents can scout WVU on film and take comfort in experience and even success against pressing opponents, but it doesn’t matter until they’re on the floor and see and feel what they watched on film.

What drove me crazy about yesterday — and we’ll get to Daxter Miles in the live post — was that nobody was wrong, no matter how people tried to pull and parse the words. The Mountaineers believe they’ll win. Kentucky understands that, but disagrees. WVU thinks it an make a dent on the offensive glass, where teams have hurt Kentucky before. The Wildcats know they lead the nation in offensive rebound percentage, which is actualyl a more telling stat thatn WVU’s NCAA-best offensive rebounds per game. The Mountaineers don’t think Kentucky is a great offensive team. The Wildcats know WVU’s offensive numbers, as well as Kentucky’s elite level defensive numbers. So much ado about so little.

But let’s put the posturing aside. Let’s get the people who have watched film and seen Kentucky in person, who know the talking stops when the action starts.

“It’s tough to compare them to any other college team because of their length and athleticism,” said Cottrill, who lives about 12 miles from UK’s campus. “Those are two things you cannot teach. They cover up any holes they have in their defense and their bigs can guard a lot of guards. They don’t have too many weaknesses.”

Fulford is curious to see how West Virginia handles UK’s size. The Wildcats will play 6-foot-10 freshman Trey Lyles, 6-11 freshman Karl-Anthony Towns and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein at the same time.

“They’re a matchup nightmare at a couple of different positions,” Fulford said. “They can play Trey Lyles at the 3 and he’s 6-10. They do a really good job of posting him up, and they do a good job of disguising their matchups and how they’re going to post him up. They do a lot of creative things … and typically you’ve got a 3 guarding him. He’s probably their biggest matchup problem and he does a really good job of finding shooters.”

Fulford said it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cauley-Stein at the top of the key guarding WVU point guard Juwan Staten at times.

“Their biggest advantage is on defense and how they can guard,” Fulford said. “They can put Willie Cauley-Stein on a point guard and he can guard them. He steps out and guards point guards. Most people think that’s an advantage (for the other team), well, you can attack him but he’s coming right along with you to block it.”

Cottrill was a witness to that defense in November’s matchup at Rupp Arena.

“They would switch the ball screens on me a few times and I’d get matched up with Cauley-Stein,” Cottrill said. “His unbelievable length helps him back off you and keep you in front but you still can’t shoot it because he is so long. It’s very hard to get separation, and he is very quick and a very good defender for his size.”

Wanna bet? A look at WVU v. Kentucky

March 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Thanks to @OddsShark for the assist.

Sweet Sixteen notes

weet 16 Trends

* Kentucky is favored by 13.5 points over West Virginia which is a big spread for the Sweet 16. But Florida closed at -14.5 vs Florida Gulf State in 2012 and Duke was favored by 13.5 over Indiana in 2002.

* But it’s only half as big as the largest Sweet 16 spread in the history of the Odds Shark database (1996 to present). On March 19, 1999, Duke was favored by 26.5 points over Southwest Missouri State, the MVC champions coached by Steve Alford, who made it into the round as an unheralded 12 seed.

* They upset Wisconsin and Tennessee before losing 78-61 to Duke, easily covering that huge spread.

* Underdogs are 21-10-1 ATS since 2011 in the Sweet 16

* Last year, OVERs went 6-2 (18-14 since 2011)

* Higher seeds are 16-8 SU past three seasons

West Virginia (5) vs Kentucky (1), -13.5, 138 o/u

* 5 seeds just 6-19 SU vs top seeds since 1996, but 2-1 past three times

* West Virginia beat top-seeded Kentucky in 2010

* West Virginia 7-2 ATS past nine games, 4-1 ATS in Sweet 16 round

* West Virginia just fourth time since 2004 as underdog of 13 or more

* Kentucky 8-2-1 ATS past 11 as double-digit favorite

* Kentucky is 10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS in Sweet 16 since 1996

* West Virginia 9-2 ATS as Madness underdog

Bob Huggins checks in on tonight’s game

March 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

And as for Jordan Cornette’s prediction, have a look.

The secret to Williams’ success: I’ve been juicing.

March 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Devin Williams has only scored in double figures in four straight games four times in his career. He’s never done it in five straight, but he’s never played like he’s playing now, and whether he can make it five in a row with jumpers and putbacks will have a bit to do with tonight’s outcome.

The sophomore who started to surge last last season before running into the Texas brick wall is averaging 15.8 points per game since the loss at Kansas, he’s been extremely efficient, he’s made 31 of 35 foul shots and he’s still rebounding at a high rate.

The explanation? Not as bad as it sounds!

“I’ve been juicing,” Williams said. “I’ve been juicing for about a month, and it’s been working out for me.”

Forgive the 6-foot-9, 255-pounder with the size 19 feet and the comparably big goggles. He couldn’t see what he’d just stepped in. Williams had no idea what juicing could mean, a word sometimes used in reference to performance-enhancing drugs.

“Is that so?” Williams said. “I didn’t know that. I didn’t mean that, either. I’m talking about fruits and vegetables and things like that.”

Williams had a tough night when the Mountaineers lost at Kansas after taking an 18-point lead in the first half. He made 2 of 5 shots and 5 of 9 free throws, and one of those misses helped Kansas force overtime. Williams played with foul trouble, disagreed with some calls and fouled out in the middle of the extra period.

He felt the need to change, and for some reason he decided to try a juice diet.

“Nobody told me,” he said. “I’m self-driven.”

In the next game, he had 22 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double in eight games as the Mountaineers ended the regular season with a win at home against Oklahoma State. He hasn’t slowed down since.

Even more reasons to believe (or not)

March 25, 2015 by Mike Casazza