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WVU Bench Remains in a State of Flux

January 26, 2010

MORGANTOWN - Quick, name West Virginia's sixth man?

A toughie, for sure.

Kevin Jones was that guy a season ago, and coach Bob Huggins loved being able to call on Jones after the jump ball because the multi-talented freshman was able to go in and immediately change the game.

Technically, this season started that same way, with junior college transfer Casey Mitchell in the starting lineup for a preseason game against Mountain State as Jones stayed on the bench.

But that didn't last long.

Mitchell, who scored 19 points that day - that seems like a lifetime ago - remained in the starting lineup when Devin Ebanks missed a few games for personal reasons but was bumped upon Ebanks' return.

Mitchell hasn't started since, and he isn't even averaging 12 minutes per game. He's been unable to find his shot consistently and his defense, while acceptable in the Panhandle Conference (the league in which Chipola College participates), isn't up to Big East standards.

Jones, meanwhile, has had his name called at the beginning of each regular-season contest, and the first player off the bench has rarely been the same guy.

Of all the guys who don't start, the energetic Joe Mazzulla is the best game-changer, but his gimpy shoulder prevents him from being able to play heavy minutes like Jones did last season.

Against Ohio State Saturday, the Mountaineers starters - Ebanks, Da'Sean Butler, Jones, Truck Bryant, and Wellington Smith - were getting buried, but Huggins waited until there was 8:49 left in the first half to call on someone else. He's usually got someone new in there before the first media timeout.

''I was trying to give them a chance,'' the coach said of his starters.

Buckeyes coach Thadd Matta wasn't doing much more. During that time, he subbed in Kyle Madsen for Dallas Lauderdale, then swapped them back out.

That's it. A boring first 11 minutes for the guy sounding the horn.

By that time, Ohio State was on top of West Virginia, 29-15, and the rim was looking like the Grand Canyon to the Buckeyes, a pinhole to the Mountaineers.

''They were making every shot,'' Butler said.

At the end of the game, the Mountaineers had nine bench points. OSU, which played only seven guys game-long, had zero.

John Flowers leads the WVU bench guys with an average of 16.3 minutes per game, followed by Mazzulla (12.8), Mitchell (11.9), Dalton Pepper (10.7), and Cam Thoroughman (8.1).

There has been little consistency within the rotation, though playing as the foul-prone Smith's backup is always a nice gig, hence Flowers' minutes.

These dynamics might change Feb. 3, when Deniz Kilicli is released from his suspension because his post presence and interior abilities will bring the number of options Huggins has like that up to one.

Once that happens - and assuming everyone stays out of Huggins' doghouse - clearer roles may well be defined.

Tonight: DePaul

It isn't often within the Big East that you get a break, but on paper, that's just what the DePaul Blue Demons (8-11 overall, 1-6 Big East) offer.

They didn't win a single game in the league last season, though they did earn a victory in the conference tournament. Just last week, they snapped a 24-game, regular-season, league losing streak with a victory against Marquette - a team No. 9 West Virginia (15-3, 4-2) needed a miracle from Butler to beat at the buzzer at home.

Head coach Jerry Wainwright was let go four games ago, and assistant coach Tracy Webster has taken over on an interim basis.

Senior guard Will Walker is the man the offense runs through at DePaul (he took 30 shots against Notre Dame the other day). He's averaging 16 points per game.

Other starters for the Blue Demons are forward Devin Hill (6-foot-9, 6.6 ppg), center Krys Faber (6-11, 2.3 ppg.), guard Jeremiah Kelly (6-1, 5.6 ppg), and guard Eric Wallace (6-6, 6.8 ppg). If your doing the math, the starters outside of Walker average a combined 21.3 points.

Some of that is misleading since 6-10 center Mac Koshwal injured his right foot Jan. 6 and is expected to miss a month. He was averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per night.

Still, DePaul ranks dead last in the Big East in scoring average at 60.4 points per game.

West Virginia has won all three league games between the two schools.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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