SYRACUSE, N.Y.—It was a bit startling to see how cheery the West Virginia players acted Wednesday during the pre-Sweet 16 media sessions after learning Darryl "Truck" Bryant would miss the rest of the season with a fractured foot.
Although this team is seemingly always in good spirits, it should come as a surprise that there was not the slightest moment the Mountaineers appeared worried over the loss of their point guard.
"I know [Bryant] has faith in us that we can win the game," senior forward Da'Sean Butler said. "I don't see where the whole panic about everything will be."
Whether they want to admit it or not, there should be a little panic in Morgantown. Coach Bob Huggins realizes he's left with just one reliable guard—Joe Mazzulla—on his roster.
"I don't know if [Mazzulla] can go 40 minutes, but I think he can go 35," Huggins said. "We're still trying to figure out which is the best direction to go."
If Mazzulla doesn't go the full 40, then that means Huggins will be forced to use reserve guard Casey Mitchell or go with a five-forward lineup. Mitchell is more of a chucker than any kind of point guard.
Yes, a five-forward lineup failed miserably against Purdue. With Washington's strong transition attack that Huggins called the best in the country, West Virginia could be burned on the fast break.
That's a mismatch Huggins will have to deal with, but, at the same time, West Virginia's four- or five-forward lineups should also give Washington coach Lorenzo Romar headaches.
"I do know that between [Devin] Ebanks, [Da'Sean] Butler, and [Kevin] Jones, they're pretty good," Romar said. "And those guys are still playing, and they're going to be pretty effective."
Romar is right. They should be effective—extremely effective, to be precise.
Washington likely will have a sub-six-foot guard on the floor at all times and could have two on if Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton enter the game at the same time. That means one of them will be forced to guard someone a good seven or eight inches taller than he is.
With the way West Virginia's array of wing players can score and offensively rebound in the post, a disaster could be brewing.
"We're going to have to adjust to whatever they're doing just like they're probably going to adjust to whatever we're doing," guard Isaiah Thomas said.
West Virginia's adjusting will be most noticeable in terms of the scoring the school will get out of its point guard.
Thomas described Bryant's game well, but he's more than what the Washington guard gave him credit for: "His name explains it. 'Truck.' He was just a strong guard from New York City who handled the ball, and he played hard."
Bryant has developed into the team's fourth leading scorer and second-best threat from deep. His replacement, junior Joe Mazzulla, isn't much of a scorer at all, as he's played through a bum shoulder that slowly improves as the season progresses.
"My role doesn't really change," Mazzulla said. "Obviously I have to play a little bit smarter to try to stay out of foul trouble. I just try and contribute to the team and what Huggs asks."
Mazzulla shouldn't try to score more. He's not on the floor with Truck often, so when on the floor as the only guard he should continue to let the game come to him as normal and let the other four weapons on the floor score as they always do.
For more info, updates, and stories on college basketball (or even links to videos of West Virginia players dancing around like idiots in their hotels), follow @JamesonFleming on Twitter. He'll be covering the East Regionals in Syracuse and the Final Four in Indianapolis for Bleacher Report.
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