LSU (5-2) scored a meaningful and resounding victory over Massachusetts in Baton Rouge Tuesday, but tonight in Morgantown, W.V., the Tigers will encounter a different beast and probably their best opponent until No. 1 Kentucky invades the PMAC on Feb. 10.
No. 16 West Virginia (7-0) has come flying out the gates of the 2014-15 season, winning all but one game by double digits. The Mountaineers most notably claimed a title in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic by dusting off defending national champ Connecticut.
What’s more is that Bob Huggins’ program has generated one helluva home-court advantage. According to Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail, the ‘Neers have won their last 52 games in December inside WVU Coliseum.
It’s easy to see why LSU is in for quite the challenge tonight in a game that will tip at 6 p.m., Central Time, and be broadcast on ESPN2.
Get ready for the ballgame, part of the second annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge, with projected starters, matchup and personnel talk as well as quotes from LSU players and Coach Johnny Jones on the Mountaineers.
LSU (5-2)PG Josh Gray (Jr., 6-1, 183) – 12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.6 apg
G Keith Hornsby (Jr., 6-4, 210) – 11.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 spg
F Jarell Martin (So., 6-10, 235) – 15.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.9 spg
F Jordan Mickey (So., 6-8, 235) – 17.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.3 bpg
F/C John Odo (Sr., 6-10, 245) – 2.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 66.7% FGs
West Virginia (7-0)PG Juwan Staten (Sr., 6-1, 190) – 15.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.4 spg
G Jaysean Paige (Jr., 6-2, 200) – 7.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.0 spg
G Daxter Miles Jr. (Fr., 6-3, 185) – 7.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.4 spg
F Jonathan Holton (Jr., 6-7, 220) – 12.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.1 spg
F Devin Williams (So., 6-9, 255) – 11.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 37.7% FGs
- The name of the game for this WVU squad is turning defense into offense. Really, they look a lot like I expected Johnny Jones’ teams to look at LSU when Jones first took over, based on his history at North Texas. The Mountaineers lead the nation in steals by a comfortable margin, averaging 13.9 thefts per game (the next closest team, Holy Cross, is back at 12.4 spg). And it’s clearly a team philosophy considering six players average at least 1.4 spg and a whopping nine Mountaineers average at least 0.9 spg. That gives you an idea of the collective athleticism on the roster. West Virginia’s reward for all these steals? It scores 82.1 points an outing, 18th in the NCAA, and almost eight points more than LSU averages.
TALK OF CHALK
- WVU’s top two players and scorers both began their careers elsewhere but are making a big impression for Huggins. Point guard Juwan Staten originally transferred from Dayton and is now in his third year running the show in blue and gold. Voted the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, Staten can score it and distribute, guiding a group that ranks 22nd nationally in assists with 16.9 dimes a game. His post counterpart, Jonathan Holton, began his college career at Rhode Island and is playing his first season in Morgantown. Like Staten is to assists, Holton is to offensive rebounding. He and Devin Williams are at the core of the nation’s top offensive rebounding team. WVU drags down an impressive 20.7 offensive rebounds per game (of 41.1 total rebounds). Josh Gray and Tim Quarterman are the most likely defenders on Staten while I expect Jordan Mickey will see plenty of Holton.
- While West Virginia is a fairly well-rounded offensive basketball team, it does have one Achilles heel on that end – inconsistent shooting. For the season the Mountaineers are averaging a woeful 42.1% shooting from the field. And for all the transition opportunities they generate via steals, that speaks pretty loudly about how poorly WVU shoots in the halfcourt. If the Tigers can limit turnovers and not give too many freebies to West Virginia, that will give them their best shot at the upset. But therein lies an interesting topic as Jones’ teams usually don’t mind getting in an up-and-down affair. In a game like this, where WVU is at home and much deeper, that could spell doom. So not turning it over is one thing, but LSU will also have to slow the game down some . . . if it can consent to playing that way.
- As for that West Virginia depth, look for two of the first players off the bench tonight to be freshmen. Jevon Carter, 6-foot-2, scores 9.3 points per game on the wing while Elijah Macon (6-9, 240) is a likely sub in the post to defend and give fouls against Mickey.
“It’s a quick turnaround for us. They’re a Top 15 basketball team, and it’s going to take that type of effort to play against a team with the quality of West Virginia. We’ve got to do a great job of making sure we’re composed in that type of environment being on the road. It’s going to be a great experience for our young basketball team.”
WHAT LSU’S SAYING
- Johnny Jones on trip to Morgantown, opponent awaiting
“I know that they like pressing, like getting the ball up the floor and play real aggressive. That’s something we’re looking into, and we’ll be prepared for it. We’ll be ready for it.”
- Jarell Martin on WVU’s style