Joe Mazzulla's Worth for West Virginia Not Found in Box Scores

Michael CarvelliContributor IJanuary 14, 2010

WASHINGTON - MARCH 22:  Joe Mazzulla #3 of the West Virginia Mountaineers celebrates after defeating the Duke Blue Devils during the second round of the West Regional as part of the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Verizon Center on March 22, 2008 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

No, he doesn’t start.

He doesn’t score that much and at the end of the year you won’t see his name on any all-conference teams or NBA mock drafts.

But, West Virginia backup point guard Joe Mazzulla just might be the key that Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers need if they hope to be dancing deep into March this year.

In his sophomore season, as the backup to Darris Nichols, Mazzulla was one of the main reasons that WVU got past Duke to make it to the Sweet 16, just missing a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists.

By the next year Nichols had graduated, leaving the team’s point guard duties to his understudy. And after his solid performance down the stretch, it appeared Mazzulla would do a great job filling in for probably the best point guard in Morgantown of the last decade.

His junior campaign didn’t go as planned though, to say the least.

In the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, Maz suffered an injury to his shooting shoulder that would end up needing surgery, thus ending his season and earning him a medical redshirt.

When this season rolled around, Mazzulla’s shoulder was not, and still is not, completely healed up, limiting his game on offense quite a lot at the beginning of the year.

The left-handed point guard was stuck only taking layups and shooting all of his free throws with his right hand.  It wasn’t until the Mountaineers game against Rutgers that Mazzulla had his first solid game on the offensive end and since then he’s been improving more and more, even shooting 10-12 footers with his left in practice.

Even when his offense was non-existent, he was able to do something that has taken this West Virginia team from looking like a middle-of-the-road Big East team to the No. 9 team in the nation that the rankings have them as.

When Joe Mazzulla comes off the bench, he just brings a different energy into the game.

Take the Mountaineers’ early season game against Coppin State. West Virginia started out the game struggling terribly, still winning, but still having a tough time. Huggins brings Mazzulla into the game and almost instantly Coppin State, who had been just driving into the lane just about every time and then kicking out to an open shooter, had trouble doing anything because of Mazzulla (one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big East).

The great defense is just the first way that he makes things work better for this team.

If he is in the lineup at the same time as the WVU’s usual starter at the point, Darryl “Truck” Bryant, it gives them the opportunity to have to very good ball handlers on the floor at the same time, which is huge when they go up against teams who apply a lot of pressure.

If the other team is in a zone, one thing we have seen with this lineup in the game is that it gives Mazzulla the chance to drive into the zone and then kicking it out to a shooter (usually Truck, but also Butler, Ebanks, and Jones at times) for an open look, which is something that Bryant has had a little bit of trouble doing at times this year.

The stuff that Joe Mazzulla has had to go through in his Mountaineer career has transformed him into a better player.

In his four years, he has transformed from a pass first, defensive specialist at the point to a coach on the court who will do anything, including sacrifice his health, to help the team win and has become the catalyst of this very talented West Virginia team.