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Game One: Valparaiso (9-3) vs. West Virginia (7-2)
Time: 3:45 p.m. at McKale Center, Tucson, Arizona
No, Bryce Drew won't be around for any last-second, game-winning shots for Valpo and no, Jerry West doesn't have any eligibility remaining for West Virginia either. However, even without Drew and West, both schools have intriguing storylines that make attending the early game of the Fiesta Bowl Classic worth the price of admission.
West Virginia has impressive victories at New Mexico (any Arizona fan will attest to the difficulties of winning at "The Pit") and at Tennessee. Valpo has beaten Charlotte on the road and Rhode Island for two of its nine victories. In fact, both of these teams come into the tournament with better records than host Arizona, which is ranked 14th in the latest AP poll.
One of the most interesting facts about Valparaiso is that seven players from its nine-man rotation are foreigners. The Mid-Continent power has guys from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Angola, Colombia, Finland and two from Puerto Rico. Six of its top seven scorers are not U.S. natives, thus earning the Crusaders an unofficial seat on the United Nations' staff.
Valpo is a very good rebounding team, led by forwards Lubos Barton and Joaquim Gomes. Center Raitis Grafs is also a force down low for the Crusaders and that trio of big men should be able to outmuscle the shorter Mountaineers on the glass.
While Valpo is big and physical, West Virginia is more perimeter-oriented, especially considering the fact that Hargett has the green light indefinitely.
Although he is only shooting 33% from the field, the 6-0 freshman--who once committed to Arizona without the coaching staff's knowledge--is averaging 16.3 points per game and shoots nine three-pointers per contest as well.
Hargett won MVP honors at the Lobo Classic in early December when he outplayed former Wildcat Ruben Douglas of New Mexico en route to a career-high 28-point performance that included seven threes.
Before anyone classifies the freshman as some Allen Iverson-type gunslinger of a shooting guard, first throw in the fact that Hargett leads WVU with 5.2 assists per game. However, one will notice almost immediately how closely his game does mirror The Answer's.
Hargett, remember, is only six-feet tall but he jumps like Richard Jefferson. He is the rare point guard who can dunk on people given the opportunity. Even though he is currently bothered by a sore knee, expect to come out of the weekend's games impressed by the Mountaineer youngster.
WVU's best player isn't Hargett though. It's 6-8 senior forward Chris Moss. Moss is very physical under the hoop and nearly doubles his closest teammate in rebounds per game with an even nine per game. He also averages 18.6 points per game to lead the team.
So while Valpo has the slight edge in the frontcourt, this is a game that will be won by the quicker, more athletic backcourt and West Virginia has that distinction.
If the Mountaineers advances it could setup a very entertaining matchup with Arizona if it can get past Pepperdine in tomorrow's late game.
Watching Hargett go against guys like Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire and Will Bynum would be the highlight of the weekend.
West Virginia 84, Valparaiso 74
Arizona 90, Pepperdine 77
Pepperdine 80, Valpo 78 (Consolation game)
Arizona 94, West Virginia 86 (Championship)