That Huggy Feeling

Bob Huggins' West Virginia squad takes on Marquette Saturday in Morgantown. breaks down the Mountaineers.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Morgantown, W. Va.

(10-3, 0-1 Big East)

Coach Bob Huggins (1st Season)


Projected Starters

Darris Nichols – SR G (6-3, 200)

Da'Sean Butler – SO F (6-7, 225)

Alex Ruoff – JR F (6-6, 215)

Joe Alexander – JR F (6-8, 230)

Jamie Smalligan – SR C (7-0, 265)


Key Reserves

Wellington Smith – SO F (6-7, 215)

Joe Mazzulla – SO G (6-2, 210)

John Flowers – FR F (6-7, 195)


After a fast start that saw them go 10-1 and rise as far as No. 23 in the polls, West Virginia is now riding a two-game losing streak headed into their date with Marquette on Saturday.


The Mountaineers lost their Big East opener 69-56 at Notre Dame and allowed career highs of 29 points and 16 rebounds to Irish forward Luke Harangody.  WVU was held to season lows in points scored and field-goal percentage (31.9 percent).  Alex Ruoff, who tallied 18 points and five rebounds, was the only Mountaineer to score in double figures.


Yet that has been the low-point for a team that has been playing inspired basketball all season.  The Mountaineers have been efficient on both ends of the court, scoring 83.5 points per game and allowing only 60.5 ppg.  Their other losses were a two-point heartbreaker to No. 8/9 Tennessee and a double-overtime affair against an underrated Oklahoma team.


More than anything, the Mountaineers have been passing the ball effectively.  They have recorded 232 assists on 395 total baskets (58.7 percent).  Their 150 turnovers (1.55:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) could stand to be approved upon, however, by comparison, Marquette has committed 167 turnovers in one fewer game played.


Credit Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins for successfully merging his up-tempo style with the entrenched system of former WVU coach John Belein.  WVU plays physical man-to-man defense and excels at creating turnovers, yet they will still be seen dropping back into a 1-3-1 zone at times. 


They run in transition – an unusual proposition during the Belein era – yet they still have several tremendous three-point shooters on the roster and take advantage of them in the half-court game.  WVU has attempted 303 three-point shots in 13 games and made 113 of them (37.6 percent), and three Mountaineer starters are shooting over 35.0 percent from beyond the arc.


They run a motion offense, but they will still take their opportunities off the backdoor cut.  One might argue that the Mountaineers, who have been force-fed back-cuts for their entire collegiate career up until now, are even more dangerous with the backdoor play now that teams are not expecting it on every possession.


Their starting lineup lists one guard, three forwards, and a center, but many of WVU's key players have the best attributes of both forwards and guards.  Just about all are strong shooters and passers, and Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler are both capable slashers.  Under the guidance of Huggins, their top four scorers are also physical players and good rebounders.  In fact, center Jamie Smalligan averages the fewest rebounds of any Mountaineer starter


With the departure of freshman center Jacob Green, who recently declared his intention to transfer, Smalligan is the only Mountaineer who stands taller than 6-9.  As that may imply, WVU is vulnerable against an active big man.  They allowed monster performances to Harangody and Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, who torched the Mountaineers for 18 points and 16 rebounds and could have gone for more had he not fouled out early in the first overtime.


Like MU, WVU currently has four starters averaging in double figures.  Their top scorer is Ruoff, who has been lighting up the scoreboard from long-range all season.

The junior forward is averaging 16.2 points per game on an otherworldly 54.0 percent shooting.  He is shooting 44.8 percent from three point range (43-96 shooting), and 129 of his 211 points have come via the three-ball.  His touch also extends to the free-throw line, from which he is averaging 83.3 percent shooting. Ruoff also has excellent court vision, dishing out 3.2 assists per game, and has the ability to make passes one would expect from a point guard.


Alexander, the junior who is WVU's second-leading scorer at 15.4 ppg, is a great athlete who is adept at penetrating to the rim.  Alexander also averages a team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game and shoots a team-high 88.2 percent from the free-throw line.


Senior point guard Darris Nichols is averaging 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest.  Butler, a sophomore, is averaging 12.6 ppg on 55.9 percent shooting.  He also averages 5.2 rebounds per game and shoots 75.0 percent from the free throw line.


Marquette leads the all-time series 3-2, with each team holding serve at their home court.  The Golden Eagles won the last meeting 81-63 on January 13, 2007.

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