SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
Head coach Jay Wright has managed to add height and interior ability to a program long known for guard play and an uptempo style. The Wildcats have a pair of frontcourt starters 6-8 or taller who average at least eight-plus points per game. The major addition has been center Mouphtaou Yarau (6-10, 250 lbs.). The sophomore is second on the team in rebounds with 7.3 per game and scores almost nine points, giving Wright major size and wingspan inside and allowing the ‘Cats to play a slower paced game as needed. Yarau sees about 24 minutes and is making 47 percent of his shots, all inside the arc. He is a distant fifth of the first five in shots taken, but has cleaned up the glass well with a team-best 60 offensive rebounds to go with 100 on the defensive side. His game is still developing, and the West Africa native doesn't handle off the bounce well. But he gets to the line and converts (70 percent) and causes shot changes in the paint on defense. This has been a great addition to Villanova's typically upbeat style, and one that has allowed them to be more versatile in a tough and physical conference.
The other interior threat is Antonio Pena (6-8, 235 lbs.). The senior hits for 10 points and 7.5 boards a game and is among the best frontcourt finishers in the league. Pena has an array of scoring abilities inside and can drive past foes as well as connect on putbacks and short jumpers. He has made a team-best 53.1 percent from the floor (95 of 179), though he is not a three-point threat. This is a mature, seasoned talent who will be difficult to match for West Virginia. The Mountaineers will have to body up Pena while also dealing with a 6-10 player and at least limiting Villanova's exceptional backcourt of Corey Fisher (6-1, 200 lbs.) and Corey Stokes (6-5, 220 lbs.). The two seniors each average about 15 points per game. Fisher, as one would expect of a point guard, has triple the assists of Stokes and is more of a distributor than his counterpart. Fisher has better than a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ration, is a decent three-point threat and very solid at the line. He loves to drive and draw, then kick back to Stokes, who has the best outside shooting percentage at 41 percent. He has taken a whopping 156 threes, making 64, and has missed just five times in shooting 77 free throws this year.
The pair have played together for three years and are among the best at anticipating what the other will do and setting up scoring chances. There might be no more talented or able backcourt in the Big East or nation when one factors skill, basketball IQ and experience. The plus is that West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins believes the tandem of Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant could slow Fisher and Stokes enough for the Mountaineers to have a chance. Mazzulla plays excellent man defense, and Bryant has emerged some at the two-guard in scoring, but needs to shoot the ball better. The pair together match the ‘Cats far better defensively than WVU would if Casey Mitchell were to play, and with VU's backcourt playing about 32 minutes each, this will be a key portion of the game. If Mazzulla can keep Fisher out of the lane to eliminate kickout chances, WVU's forwards will be better able to concentrate on slowing Yarau and Pena and not sliding for help side defense. Getting back quickly is a must as well; Villanova still likes its transition game and will take run-out points when available.
Swingman Isaiah Armwood (6-7, 205 lbs.) nets 2.3 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. The fifth scoring option, Armwood plays just 14 minutes a game and has yet to take a three to go with just 17 free throws shot this season. The sophomore is athletic, and will run the floor. He has the ability to hit jump shots and challenge for rebounds, and though not a great scoring option compared with VU's other talents now, Armwood will get his chances over his final two seasons.
|Sat. Feb. 5
Wells Fargo Center
WVU 15-6, 6-3
VU 18-4, 6-3
WVU - 13
VU - 15
Wright's bench isn't quite as limited as Huggins', but the Wildcat staff is down to about three sophomore reserves with which they feel comfortable after forward JayVaughn Pinkston was suspended for the rest of the season after an altercation with fellow students led to the students being hospitalized. Guard Maalik Wayns (6-2, 185 lbs.) is slated to come of the bench against West Virginia, but has 20 starts in 22 games this year. He plays almost 30 minutes and has taken the third-most shots on the team, making 42 percent from the field – and just 24 percent from three. The point guard averages 14 points and about four assists per game, and is excellent at the line (95 of 114, 83.3 percent). He distributes well, involves others and takes his shots when available. He has been disappointed by his lack of three-point shooting, but breaks down defenses well, flashes good quickness and shows good vision. A solid defender, Wayns is usually assigned a team's best scorer off the bounce.
Fellow guard Dominic Cheek (6-6, 185 lbs.) has far more size, but is actually more likely to hit outside shots. He rebounds well for a guard at four per game in 20 minutes on average, and his 6.6 points are a nice addition. Forward Maurice Sutton (6-11, 220 lbs.) sees almost all the frontcourt minutes outside of the starters. The third-year player averages fewer than three points and three rebounds per game in 11 minutes, but can hit from around the hoop and block shots. Sutton redshirted his initial season, and still needs to gain some strength to operate well in the Big East. He runs well, and can force teams away from the hoop, but isn't yet as polished as Wright would like.
This is a slightly different Villanova team from the one's which typically made solid postseason runs during Wright's tenure. This version of the ‘Cats can score more effectively inside and, while still getting excellent backcourt point production, doesn't need to play uptempo all game to win. The game will likely be decided by pace as much as anything. If West Virginia can keep the scoring in the 50s or 60s, rebound well and take care of the basketball, it has a chance for a very good road win. If Villanova reaches the 70-plus point mark, it's likely going to win – it is 16-0 when reaching the plateau this season. The Wildcats like to get into a transition game and aren't likely to turn the ball over. WVU must continue its excellent three-point defense (VU makes 34.7 percent), a portion of counteracting the drive-and-dish Wright has mastered. Play physical, force Villanova away from the basket and rebound. Watch how the game is called and the free throw battle as well. The Wildcats are very good (78 percent as a team) from the line; West Virginia can ill afford routinely missing point opportunities from the stripe as it did against Louisville.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season; G Casey Mitchell (Suspended), Possible.
VU: F JayVaughn Pinkston (Suspended), Out for Season.
Bob Huggins is tied with Gale Catlett as the West Virginia coach with the most Big East road wins at 17. John Beilein had 13. Huggins has by far the most league road wins per season on average. The Mountaineers have played the fewest home games of any Big East team with nine.
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In two of the last three games, West Virginia has held opponents below 50 points. Those totals (44 for Seton Hall and 46 for South Florida) are the fewest points scored by Big East teams in conference play this season. WVU foes have averaged 50 points over the last four games.
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The Mountaineers have won five of the last seven series meetings versus Villanova. The teams split the series last year, each winning on the road.
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Villanova head coach Jay Wright is 4-7 against WVU. Huggins is 2-2 against ‘Nova and Wright.
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West Virginia is 78-12 under Huggins when outrebounding a foe. It has won 39 of 40 games when holding opponents to less than 70 points.