SCOUTING THE FRIARS
Providence has been playing a bit better of late, but that hasn't resulted in much success in the Big East. The Friars have the requisite one great win on their resume, having crushed Louisville 90-59, but show only a win over Rutgers as their other league victory. As we saw when West Virginia visited St. John's however, there shouldn't be any feelings of overconfidence, no matter who the opponent is for the Mountaineers.
Providence is led by a strong backcourt, where Vincent Council (16.1 points per game) and Bryce Cotton (15.2) dominate the ball. Council is made doubly dangerous in that he passes the ball very well and finds open teammates, as his 7.3 assists per game (best in the Big East) attest. Backup Gerard Coleman (13.5 ppg) is also a serious scoring threat, and makes the Friars even more outside oriented: the trio has combined to take 816 of PC's 1,275 shots.
Forward LaDontae Henton has quietly put together an excellent season, although it hasn't garnered much notice outside the Ocean State. Henton is averaging 13.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per outing. He also leads the Friars in blocked shots (26) and is tied for third in steals (22). Kadeem Batts, who has returned to the starting lineup since missing the first third of the season due to "failing to meet the obligations of a student-athlete", has been very good in a complementary role, averaging 8.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per outing. Lee Goldsbrough, who has started the last two games for PC and has eight such assignments overall, plays something of a Keaton Miles role for the Friars, averaging less than a point in fewer than nine minutes per game. Bilal Dixon (4.5 ppg) and Brice Kofane (2.5 ppg) eat up the remaining minutes for head coach Ed Cooley.
In all, a look down the Friar lineup reveals a team that probably should have a couple more wins on its resume. PC dropped a pair of winnable games against Iowa State and Northern Iowa in the South Padre Island Invitational, and gave away a six-point second half lead on the road against USF. Of course, WVU can certainly say the same thing, which has put it in a precarious position in terms of post season play.
Just two weeks ago, things were looking rosy for the Mountaineers. As February gets underway, they are hanging on by their fingers.
Dunkin' Donuts Center
WVU 15-8, 5-5
PC 12-10 2-8
WVU - 29
PC - 125
First, WVU will have to find a way to avoid the long scoring droughts that have plagued it all year. While every team misses shots on occasion, West Virginia's droughts have also been caused by not getting shots off at all. Turnovers, bad decisions and the like have caused streaks where the Mountaineers haven't even been able to get a shot away, much less a good one. Going three or four consecutive possessions without getting a shot at the rim hurts any team -- and especially one that has limited scoring threats.
Second, West Virginia now has to figure out a way to overcome the loss of Kevin Noreen. Although the backup hasn't put up huge numbers, he hasn't blown up the offense when he has been on the court. That, unfortunately, hasn't always been the case when Dominique Rutledge has taken the floor, so head coach Bob Huggins has a dilmeea on his hands. Does he try to go with a seven man rotation, playing just a pair of Brown(e)s in relief? Or does he hope that Rutledge has picked up enough of the system to give the minutes that Noreen did? If he goes with the latter option, try to watch the flow of the offense when Rutledge is on the court. Is there a good deal of arm-waving and direction from teammates? Do the Mountaineers go deep into the shot clock and reset the offense more than once? WVU's ability to run its sets will be important in a game in which it needs to get back some semblance of offensive efficiency.
In the end, however this game is more about West Virginia than who it is playing. Truck Bryant promised a team-only meeting to discuss WVU's Jekyll and Hyde play. Kevin Jones noted that perhaps the two days off after the Pitt debacle would be of help. Whether any of that works is open to interpretation, but one thing is clear. WVU stands at a crossroads in its 20111-12 season right now. It likely has to win five of its next eight games to be reasonably comfortable in securing an NCAA bid -- and it can't afford to lose to teams like the Friars.
Providence guards Bryace Cotton and Vincent Council lead the Big East in minutes played per game at 38.1 and 37.9, respectively. WVU's Kevin Jones is right behind with a 37.8 minutes per game average.
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West Virginia's next loss with be the 1,000th in its basketball history. WVU has been stuck on 1,617 wins since defeating Cincinnati on Jan. 21.
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Kevin Jones stands a good chance of becoming the tenth player in West Virginia history to earn a spot on a first team All-American squad. Spend your break between the WVU game and the Super Bowl by naming the other nine.
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Kevin Jones stat of the week: In WVU's 23 games this year, Jones has been the Mountaineers' leading scorer 18 times and leading rebounder 21 times.