SCOUTING THE ISLANDERS
The Islanders haven't ducked solid competition early, having faced Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Denver, Houston, Texas Tech and South Alabama in the early going, but haven't seen much reward other than experience after suffering a string of losses. First-year head coach Willis Wilson did enjoy an overtime win over Utah State, but hasn't been able to coach much scoring out of his team. The Islanders haven't scored more than 66 points in a game this year, and have broken the 60-point barrier only twice.
As is the case with many mid-major squads, the Islanders' strength lies on the perimeter. Quality big men are often in short supply outside the power conferences, and TA&M-CC's roster is no exception. The Islanders are led in scoring by 6-2 Terence Jones, who tallies 12.6 ppg and has 13 three-pointers to lead the team. Senior swingman Chris Hawkins-Mast is the only other player in double figures (10.4 ppg) but is more well rounded, averaging 5.0 rpg. Freshman guard Jonathan Jordan earned his way into the starting lineup with good early play off the bench, and now averages 6.7 points per outing. He fills the playmaker role, and has 28 assists and 13 steals, both good for the team lead.
Forward Myron Dempsey is the most consistent frontcourt player, using a strong build (6-6 225 lbs.) to average 8.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg. He'll likely be joined in the starting lineup by Hameed Ali, who scores 4.7 ppg. Center Nate Maxey, who has starting experience this year, is expected to come off the bench and contribute some help defensively. He has 15 blocked shots on the season, but has rebounded at just a 3.3 per game clip.
TA&M-CC's scoring woes relate directly to its woeful shooting. Dempsey is the only starter who owns a shooting percentage above 39%, and as a team the Islanders convert just 36.3% of their shots. Add in a 27% mark from behind the arc and a 57% rate from the free throw line, and it's easy to see why points have been at a premium. Given their lack of height, TA&M-CC has battled foes relative well on the boards, but with just two contributors standing taller than six feet, six inches, it has been a struggle for them to score and compete inside against bigger foes.
Head coach Bob Huggins has said more than once that he doesn't inflate an opponent's ability, so there's not much doubt that he has told his squad he expects them to win this game.
WVU 6-2, 0-0
TA&M-CC 1-6, 0-0
WVU - 59
TA&M-CC - 84
One of those aspects has been work against zone defenses, which West Virginia has not seen a great deal of this year. Given the Islanders' size, zone is a good possibility, and Monday's opponent, Tennessee Tech, will also throw a zone look the Mountaineers' way.
The theme of preparation for different looks has been strong through the week, as West Virginia has tried to work against some of the offensive and defensive looks it will see from all of its opponents in the tournament. How WVU responds to the short preparation windows, and how well it can retain the lessons the players learned this week, will loom large in its play over the next five days.
Obviously, West Virginia's coaches want to see crisp play and progress in the many areas of shortcoming Huggins has listed over the first month of the season. Getting a bit of rest for starters, and some play for backups and newcomers, is also a goal, and could have benefits in later games in the tournament.
As part of the Las Vegas Classic, both teams will play four games in seven days. WVU, as one of the marquee teams in the event, gets two home games before traveling to Las Vegas for the final two contests, but the Islanders have road treks to West Virginia and Missouri State prior to its jaunt to Sin City. Add it all up, and the Islanders will cover more than 5,00o flight miles to compete in the tournament. As if that wasn't enough, they played a game just two days before the WVU contest, dropping a tough two-point loss to South Alabama.
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Pat Forsythe, who sat out the last two games with back spasms, has practiced this week and is expected to play against the Islanders.
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While the Mountaineers and Islanders have never met, head coach Willis Wilson has seen WVU before. His Rice team fell to the Mountaineers, 78-61, on Nov. 29, 1997, in the second game of the San Juan Shootout. He headed the Owls for 16 years, compiling a 219-246 record.
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According to the school's official website, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is the only university in the nation located on its own island. The 240-acre campus, located on the Gulf of Mexico, has more than 10,000 students.