West Virginia is back in the AP Top 25. The question is whether leading scorer Casey Mitchell will ever be back on the court.
The 25th-ranked Mountaineers expect to be short-handed once again Wednesday night when they try to defeat Seton Hall for the seventh straight time.
West Virginia (14-6, 5-3 Big East) has only eight scholarship players and used seven in splitting the last two games without Mitchell, suspended indefinitely last Monday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Mitchell averages 16.6 points.
It’s not known if or when Mitchell will return. The senior guard was also suspended indefinitely in October for violating team rules.
The Mountaineers were ranked No. 21 two weeks ago before falling out the next week following a loss to Marshall. They fell 55-54 at then-No. 23 Louisville last Wednesday before recovering for a 66-55 win at Cincinnati on Saturday to get back into the Top 25.
“I kept telling them when we were going through what we’re going through, ‘All I need is seven or eight guys who are going to come through,’” coach Bob Huggins said. “They’ve played awfully hard.”
One player who has stepped up in Mitchell’s absence is senior guard Joe Mazzula, who averaged 17.0 points last week. Mazzula had not scored more than 10 points before these two efforts, and he had 16 and eight assists against the Bearcats.
“He has games like that,” Huggins said. “He’s got a great will. He kind of willed the ball to go for us. When he started and he seemed like he could turn a corner, we ran a lot of stuff for him.”
Seton Hall (10-12, 4-6) has not beaten West Virginia since a 71-64 win Feb. 14, 2006, and has lost five straight in Morgantown since a 68-64 victory Feb. 22, 2003.
The Pirates, though, could be a dangerous opponent after two straight wins. They ended a 19-game road losing streak to ranked opponents with a 90-68 rout of then-No. 9 Syracuse last Tuesday before an 81-71 win over Providence on Sunday.
Seton Hall had lost six of seven after a loss to state rival Rutgers on Jan. 22 before seniors Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson called out the team when first-year coach Kevin Willard took the blame for the poor play.
“When that happened that was a turning point for me and Jeff because we didn’t want our teammates to think now they have a scapegoat cause coach said it’s his fault and players could say if I mess up, it’s coach’s anyway,” Pope said.
“You look at your next four games and you just got through a tough four games,” Willard said. “The teams are so well-coached from top to bottom and there are great players from top to bottom.”
West Virginia limited Jeremy Hazell to nine points on 2-of-10 shooting in last season’s 75-63 home victory over Seton Hall. He averaged 33.3 points in the three previous meetings.