Preview: WVU - Geogia Southern

West Virginia hosts Georgia Southern in the opening round of the Cancun Challenge -- but the Eagles aren't your ordinary first-day fodder.


A member of the Southern Conference (once the home of the Mountaineers), Georgia Southern features a three-guard, two-forward offense that is becoming more and more prevalent in today's college game. With no player standing taller than six feet, eight inches, the Eagles get up and down the court well, having topped 100 points twice in their three games. Only a narrow 81-80 overtime loss to Miami blots their early season record.

GSU's starting lineup is loaded with veterans, featuring three seniors and two juniors, despite returning just one starter from the 2012-13 season. They're the kind of foe that can sneak up on opponents looking at the name on the front of the jersey rather than the talents of the team wearing them. In the backcourt, Jelani Hewitt (Jr., G, 6-2) and Tre Bussey (Sr., G, 6-3) carry the bulk of the scoring load, averaging 25 and 23 points per game, respectively. Hewitt directs the offense, carrying a better than 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, while Bussey is a scorer who's effective from everywhere, hitting an eye-popping 69.4% of his shots from the field. Third guard Brian Holmes (Sr., G, 6-2) also can't be ignored, as he makes the most of his shot attempts. He is averaging 9.7 points per outing on just five shots per game, with most of his damage coming from three-point range.

Up front, Angel Matias (Jr., F, 6-4) and Marvin Baynham (Sr., F, 6-7) hold down starting spots, with Matias averaging an even 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, while Baynham chips in 6.7 points.

One problem most mid-majors face is depth, but that's not an issue for Southern. Backup Curtis Diamond (Jr., G, 6-3) gets nearly as much run as the starters, and averages 10.3 points per game in nearly 25 minutes of game action. Kyle Doyle (Fr., F, 6-6) actually gets more time than either of the frontcourt starters, and has been excellent in his first games in college, scoring 9.0 points and grabbing 7.7 rebounds per contest. Three other Eagles average ten minutes per game or more, giving first-year head coach Mark Byington a number of options to mix and match.


Conference games are important, but for a West Virginia team that hopes to play in some post season event, the November and December schedule might be even more crucial. The Mountaineers must win games such as this one in order to build its win total, but it's not going to just roll over GSU.
Game Info
Thu 11/21
7:00 PM E

WVU Coliseum
WVU 2-1, 0-0
GSU 2-1, 0-0
WVU 2-0
Root Sports
Sirius/XM: 110/192
WVU - 201
GSU - 273
The Eagles, with a veteran-laden roster (a total of nine seniors and juniors dot the lineup) probably aren't going to be fazed in a WVU Coliseum holding six thousand sit-on-their-hands fans, especially after facing off with Miami and nearly pulling out an overtime win. West Virginia has hopefully learned this lesson from the Duquesne game, when it let the Dukes back into the contest after moving out to a comfortable lead. It's one of many lessons that the revamped Mountaineers will have to take to heart, and act upon, if they are going to rack up wins in the first two months of the season.

Once again, WVU will face something of a defensive dilemma against a shorter opponent. If the Mountaineers choose to play man-to-man, which it usually does to start the game, forwards Nathan Adrian and Devin Williams will have to defend a 6-2 guard and a 6-4 forward. That's probably not tenable over the course of the game, so look for the Mountaineers to again employ its point drop defense, or perhaps a 1-2-2 to provide better floor coverage against GSU's three-point shooters. The Eagles are hitting 41% of those tries, and with 83 of their 193 shot attempts coming from behind the arc, clearly aren't shy about letting it fly from long range. If they make 40% against the Mountaineers, they could put themselves in position for an upset.

WVU will also likely be hampered by the absence of Gary Browne, who continues to recover from a deep thigh bruise. He has been very limited in practice since the Duquesne game.

West Virginia must also improve its rebounding, which has been poor in its first three games. This doesn't appear to be a lack of effort, but more of a problem with making the transition from defending, especially in the zone, to getting to the boards when a shot goes up. Williams has been good in this, and has gotten support from Juwan Staten and Eron Harris out front, but more frontcourt players need to be more consistent in getting rebounds, especially on the defensive end.


WVU's rebounding concerns have a handful of contributing factors, some of which can be corrected as the team improves on defense and works to transition to the rebounding game. One that can't though, is the fact that the Mountaineers don't have a lot of bouncy leapers among its big men. Even Williams, who is already showing his ability on the glass, isn't the type of player who will soar above opponents and snatch caroms away. He's an old school rebounder, who relies on positioning, boxing out and relentless effort to get to the ball.

That's not a criticism of Williams, or any of the other Mountaineers on this year's roster. Kevin Jones was an outstanding rebounder at WVU who lacked a springy leap, and he certainly turned out just fine. It's just that WVU can't rely on high-jumping, arm-extending boards to fuel its rebounding efforts. Players have to get in, root their way to position and keep foes away from the ball in order to gain possession, and that's clearly still a work in progress. It's a critical area to watch as the season moves along.

* * *

GSU head coach Mark Byington has some familiarity with WVU. He was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech during the 2012-13 season.

* * *

Is shooting back? Given the efforts of both teams this year, that's a trend to watch. Against Duquesne, WVU posted its highest shooting percentage in a game (58.9 percent) since shooting 61.0 percent against Auburn on Dec. 5, 2007 in Birmingham, and is making nearly 49% of its shots from the field this year. Georgia State was a perfect 16-16 from the free throw line against Miami, and is hitting almost 54% of its tries from the court.

Clearly, the new emphasis on calling fouls for physical on-ball defense is also having an effect, as more shooters are able to drive the ball to the hoop, but early season returns are also showing better shooting away from the basket as well.

* * *

The Eagles list 19 players on their roster, although four are denoted as not dressing for games this year. One of the players on the roster is Bryce Woodliff, who played his final two high school seasons for Greenbrier East and head coach Jim Justice, who owns the Greenbrier Resort.

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