SCOUTING THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Tennessee Tech is on a bit of a roll, as it boasts a three-game winning streak coming into this game. The Golden Eagles' schedule certainly hasn't been overwhelming to date, but they do feature a win over Evansville last Saturday as a strong point. Tech lost to common opponent Miami by 11 and dropped a decision to Duquesne by ten, but since that time have put together the modest win streak to build moment for their biggest regular season game of the year.
The Techsters' lineup is a familiar model that WVU has seen frequently in the first month of the season -- guard dominated. A three-guard system, led by Ohio Valley Conference preseason player of the year Kevin Murphy, provides most of the scoring punch and will be the focus of WVU's defensive efforts. The 6-7 Murphy averages 21.0 ppg, and uses the entire floor to produce. He's hit 21 threes, but also works closer to the hoop to score and draw fouls, and has added 39 points to his totals from the free throw line. His height creates match-up problems for opponents, and he uses that advantage not only in shooting but also on the boards, where he averages 5.8 rebounds per game. Running mate Jud Dillard is similarly well rounded. He boasts averages of 16.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg (best on the team) and is an excellent shooter, with one exception. While he has made 53% of his shots from the field (excellent for a guard) and almost 85% from the foul line, he has yet to make a three this year. He's 0-9 from the season from distance.
The third expected starter in the backcourt is Zac Swansey, who sets the offense and has a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio. He's also the team leader in steals with 26, but unlike some point guards he can't be ignored as a scorer. He averages 8.6 ppg and has made 30% of this threes -- not great, but good enough to cause him to be covered when the Golden Eagles set up the offense. Off the bench, Chase Dunn and Zach Bailey provide primary support. Dunn averages five points in 14.4 minutes per game, and also isn't afraid to shoot the ball from long range. He's made 11 of his 33 tries from there. Bailey, likewise, is a distance threat, tallying 7.3 ppg in an average of 15 minutes of action. All told, the guards have taken 455 of Tennessee Tech's 559 shots this year.
The front court starters, Dennis Ogbe and Terrell Barnes, are still working to become stronger offensive forces. The 6-7 Ogbe, who recently moved into a starting role, hasn't been very productive, but has made 12 of his 14 free throws, so fouling him when he does get the ball in shooting situations isn't Plan A. Barnes, a solidly build forward, average 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, but is a target to be put on the line, as he has made just seven of his 20 free throw attempts to date. Seven foot, one inch center Liam McMorrow provides much the same numbers in a backup role after starting six games earlier this year. He chips in 4.9 ppg and 3.2 rpg. Forward Bassey Inameti also falls into that line with 3.3 ppg and 2.2 rpg, while leading the team with 12 blocked shots.
Tennessee Tech is a much better team than WVU's first foe in the Classic, and thus must be treated with more respect than the Mountaineers showed on Saturday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
WVU 7-2, 0-0
TT 6-4, 0-0
WVU - 47
TT - 259
On the flip side, the visitors do have shooters who can light up the scoreboard. Tech is averaging 73.7 points per game, and have four players who can make threes. Look for lots of drive and kick action from the Golden Eagles, and lots of exhortations from the Mountaineer bench consisting of "Don't leave shooters!" In order to cover up the shooters, WVU's on-ball defenders must stay in front of their foes and not allow them to penetrate and force defensive help. That's what leads to open shooters on the perimeter, and it's been an increasing problem in the past couple of games. West Virginia's guards must improve on cutting off those drives and keeping the ball on one side of the floor in order to prevent Tech's snipers from getting open looks on the back end of the drive and dish.
Good defense also obviously helps in the transition game, and that's another area the Mountaineers need to get cranked up early. WVU got a number of those opportunities in the second half against Texas A&M-CC, but in the first half the running game was stagnant -- mostly because the Islanders hit shots and West Virginia didn't rebound the ball cleanly. If the Mountaineers can cover up shooter and force tough shots, look for some long rebounds and running opportunities. Those points, which are easier to come by that scores in the halfcourt, are going to be critical as the season progresses, and WVU needs to work on all aspects of creating those scores as the non-conference schedule winds down.
Bob Huggins often mentions 70 points as a goal for his team's scoring, and given the defense which West Virginia plays, it's clear that's a goal that returns results. WVU is 47-4 in its last 51 games when holding foes to 69 points or fewer. This season, the numbers are even more pronounced. WVU has held opponents in its seven wins to an average of 63.9 points, but has given up an average of 72.5 in its two losses.
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Tennessee Tech has Ohio Valley Conference individual leaders in five different major statistical categories. Those include Kevin Murphy in scoring (20.8), Jud Dillard in rebounding (8.3) and defensive rebounding (5.9) and Zac Swansey in assists (5.3) and steals (2.6).
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While West Virginia's "Big Three" have had a few ups and downs thie year, they have all managed to score in double figures in every contest to date. The nine-game streak has boosted Kevin Jones' career double-figure scoring games to 71, while Truck Bryant has 65 and Deniz Kilicli 18.
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The Golden Eagles have been involved in two overtime games this year, and won both, pulling out a 62-57 decision over High Point and an 89-87 affair over Lipscomb.
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Tennessee Tech has used four different starting lineups over its 10 games so far this season, but appear to have settled into a more stable rotation over the past four games, starting the lineup listed in our scouting report at the top of this article. Only two Golden Eagles -- Swansey and Dillard -- have started all nine games, and eight different players, including McMorrow, Inameti and Bailey, have also earned starts.