SCOUTING THE BLUE HOSE
Presbyterian has use a couple of different starting lineups through its first five games this season, with the seven players involved accounting for the bulk of the playing time in November. It's probably not important to focus on who might comprise the first five in this game, as all are expected to combine to play the vast majority of the minutes available.
PC can put some tall guards on the court who can shoot over shorter defenders and potentially cause some problems defensively. Jordan Downing (Jr. G, 6-5) has started all five games and leads the team in scoring (19 ppg). Fellow five-timer Reggie Dillard (Fr. G, 6-4) also gives the Blue Hose height, and he also takes advantage of his size, tallying 14.2 points per outing. Both just get brief rests, with each averaging more than 36 minutes of game time per contest, so expect to see them on the floor for much of the game.
Head coach Gregg Nibert, a 24-year veteran at the school, can also call on Will Adams (Fr., G, 5-10) and Markus Terry (Fr., G, 6-1) to either spell Dillard and Downing or give PC a three-guard look. Neither are major scorers, though, so West Virginia's defensive attention should remain on the Double Ds in the backcourt.
Inside, William Truss (Jr. C, 6-8) has made half of his shots this year and has been active on the boards. He averages a double-double (10.8 points, 10.0 rebounds) and has been very active on the offensive glass, snaring 22 offensive misses to date. He'll provide some competition for WVU's front line, which has faced a number of shorter opponents in several of its games to date.
Danny Herrera (Jr., F, 6-5) and Ed Drew (Fr., F, 6-5) have also seen spot starting duty this year, with the former averaging five points and four rebounds per appearance. Drew gets about 14 minutes of action per game, and is reasonably productive in that time, adding three points and three boards.
West Virginia easily disposed of a veteran Georgia Southern team early in Thursday's game. While no one can predict a 20-point lead in the game's opening minutes, the Mountaineers should be able to handle Presbyterian on Saturday.
1:30 PM E
WVU 3-1, 0-0
PC 1-4, 0-0
WVU - 203
PC - 296
Freshman forward Nathan Adrian detailed some of those challenges after the Georgia Southern win, noting that even the same defense (for example, the point drop) works differently and requires different methods of execution depending on the strengths of the opposition. Facing different teams with different styles will only help WVU in the learning process, but with quick turnarounds between many games, the challenge to learn and retain the tweaks for each contest is formidable. The big difference for WVU this year, though, is that it has a team of players who are committed to listening and making the effort to do better, They do have to learn how to take advantage of all of the tools the have (written scouting reports, video clips, iPads, etc.) but if they do, there's no reason to think they can't improve.
Back to this game, there's no doubt WVU is a prohibitive favorite. It should be able to push PC defensively and create transition scoring opportunities. It's important, though, for the team to not make this a "throwaway" game, but rather use it as an opportunity to work and improve.
Many players vow to rededicate themselves over the off-season and come back with a new attitude, but most fall short of the results they predict. Some succeed spectacularly, though, and Juwan Staten has to be included in that select group. After a sophomore season that was marred by team infighting and indifference, the junior has come out smoking. He leads the Big 12 in assists per game (7.75), assist-to-turnover ratio (7.75) and is second in steals (2.25). He also became the first player in school history to score more than 20 points and dish out at least nine assists in back-to-back games.
Staten obviously worked hard during the spring and summer to improve his game on the court, but his improved mental outlook and his determination to provide the leadership so sadly lacking a year ago has been just as important in his turnaround. Staten's numbers will probably decline a bit as opposition strengthens, but it seems very unlikely that his overall work and practice ethic will decline. That could be the difference between a post-season trip or staying at home for WVU this year.
* * *
PC is shooting just 38.6% from the field as a team, and only Dillard (45.8%/47.4%) is a consistent threat from the outside. Downing actually shoots better from three-point range than from inside the arc, so he also should get attention whenever he's in position to get the ball. The match-up to watch on one of these players is Eron Harris -- the sophomore has been striving to be more consistent on defense this year, and he needs to be in position to close out on the Presbyterian shooters in the half-court.
* * *
West Virginia is 38-1 under Bob Huggins when shooting 50 percent or better from the field. This stat wasn't really relevant last year, when the Mountaineers shot the ball as if it were lopsided, but it has already come into play in all three of WVU's wins this season. It's not fair to expect it to sustain its current success rate of 51% from the field all the way through March, but it won't be a surprise to see the Mountaineers shoot themselves into any game this year.
* * *
PC assistant coach John Reynolds has a link to the Blue & Gold News in a six degrees of separation sort of way. Reynolds spend the last two seasons at Delta State, where he crossed paths with Chris Richardson, who was one of our employees before beginning pursuit of his career as a basketball coach. Richardson, who was on staffs at both the University of Charleston and Fairmont State, is now the lead assistant for head coach Jim Boone's Statesmen.