On Wednesday night there will be ice on the ground in Morgantown, WV. And likewise, there will be a band of Pirates taking on a smaller band of Mountaineers.
The full Report:
20010-11 record: 14-6 (5-3 Big East)
2009-10 record: 31-7 (13-5 Big East; lost in Final Four to Duke)
Key losses: Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith
Key returnees: Casey Mitchell (suspended), Kevin Jones, John Flowers, Darryl Bryant, Joe Mazzulla, Deniz Kilicli, Cam Thoroughman, Dalton Pepper, Jonnie West
The Mountaineers have gone through a lot this year. In addition to the usual withdrawal from losing such talents as Butler, Ebanks and Smith, they have dealt with the losses of freshman guard Noah Cottrill (kicked off the team), Dan Jennings (ditto after he left the team bench during a game, an unforgivable basketball sin), and Casey Mitchell (suspended indefinitely twice). Jennings and Cottrill were never factors on the team, but Mitchell (who will rejoin the team Saturday) was the leading scorer, three point shooter and free throw shooter for Bob Huggins' team. He will miss Wednesday's game, leaving the Mountaineers with 8 scholarship players to deal with the Pirates.
The most important of those 8 is junior forward Kevin Jones. He is 6'8", multi-skilled, and can play anywhere on the court although he much prefers to face up rather than post up. He is averaging 13.2 PTS and 6.9 REB, leading West Virginia in both categories among players who will be active Wednesday night. The key to stopping him is to either send him to the foul line (59% from there) or make him shoot threes (25% from there). He is a matchup problem, but much like the Syracuse games, I expect Fuquan Edwin to play a big role in defending Jones.
Next is the big Turkish center Deniz Kilicli. Kilicli is a big, strong big man who commands attention because of his size and his pet move (a lefty baby hook that is very tough to block). There is no one on the Pirates' roster to match up with him physically, so the Pirates must keep him off the boards and away from his comfort zone.
John Flowers is also a major player for the Mountaineers, averaging a nice line of 9.8 PTS/ 6.6 REB/ 2 AST/ 2.4 BLK while shooting 48% from the field (31% from deep), and 75% from the line. He also doubles as WVU's best defender. Flowers is the x-factor for the Mountaineers. If he scores, they are in good shape.
With 8 scholarship players, they'll need him to do that, since the point guard tandem of the diminutive Truck Bryant and the ancient Joe Mazzulla don't do a tremendous job of that, although Bryant tends to make big shots and has a knack for getting to the free throw line. Cam Thoroughman backs up the bigs, while Jonnie West and Dalton Pepper are strictly shooters off the WVU bench.
Despite the road nature of this game, this depleted Mountaineer squad that is lacking a true leader/go-to guy is vulnerable at the moment, especially without their leading scorer and because of the recent string of strong play the Pirates are on. This is the best chance the Pirates have had in a LONG time to get a win in Morgantown, a place that has not been kind to them.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- Jeremy Hazell is on. Hazell has either been hot or cold so far this year. On the road in the Big East, they need him to be the former, especially against Jones and Flowers, who will likely take turns sticking to him like glue (with Flowers being the primary defender on him).
- Herb Pope can match Deniz Kilicli's physicality. Some of this depends on how the referees call the game, as there will almost certainly be some contact between these two. Pope has the decided rebounding edge, but Kilicli is the type of player that can give him trouble on the boards from time to time
- Jordan Theodore plays under control. Both Bryant and Mazzulla (especially Mazzulla) can be VERY pesky defenders, and Theodore needs to stay on the floor in this game. We all love Keon Lawrence, but Theodore is the better ball handler. Don't expect too many points from Theodore tonight, but do expect him to do his best to regulate the tempo. If he succeeds, the Pirates will be in great shape.
MOUNTAINEERS WILL WIN IF:
- They avoid taking too many threes. After Casey Mitchell, there is no phenomenal shooter on West Virginia this year. Mitchell was shooting 37% from deep, and on 50 more attempts than the next-closest shooter. Dalton Pepper and Jonnie West can knock down a shot, as can Bryant from time to time, but if they rely on the three like they have in several games this year, they will not like the result.
- John Flowers shuts down Jeremy Hazell. Simple matchup- their best defender against SHU's best scorer. It isn't rocket science- if Flowers shuts down Hazell it will be tougher for the Pirates. This is a team that actually defends, unlike Providence, so Hazell getting going is more crucial.
- They force the Pirates into a lot of threes. Yes, the Pirates have proven they can hit them in tough environments (Syracuse, anyone?), but SHU still does not have a single knock-down shooter other than Hazell (Jamel Jackson has not received regular playing time in a long while). If Robinson, Theodore, Lawrence, etc... are forced into deep balls, the odds rest with West Virginia.