Preview: WVU - Northern Kentucky

LSU exposed some flaws in West Virginia's game. The Mountaineers hope to begin the correction process with a Sunday afternoon contest at Northern Kentucky.


SCOUTING THE NORSE

NKU is off to a bit of a tough start, but much of that can be attributed to its difficult schedule. The Norse are playing their third ranked foe of this season in this game, after previously dropping contests to Wisconsin and Nebraska. They have wins over North Carolina A&T , Ohio Mid-Western and Idaho, but dropped their most recent contest to UT-Martin at home.

NKU runs a three-guard offense, and like most teams at their level of play aren't overblessed with height. However, starting forwards Jalen Billups (6-6, 240 lbs.) and Daniel Camps 6-5, 225 lbs.) won't be overmatched in the bulk departmen. The duo is strongly built and has the ability to plow to the hoop. Each converts better than 60% of his shots (compare that to West Virginia's primary bigs, who are converting at frigid rates of 37% ,33%, and 27%). They don't have the skill level of LSU's front line -- not by a longshot -- but they aren't going to roll over just because a Big 12 team is coming to town.

Freshman guard Tayler Persons (6-3, 230 lbs.) has taken on much of the scoring load in the backcourt, tossing in 11.3 ppg while also snaring a team-best 4.6 rebounds per. And oh-by-the-way, he also finds time to dish out 3.1 assists per contest for NKU, which is now eligible to play for the Atlantic Sun title after reclassifying to NCAA Division I two years ago. Backcourt mates Todd Johnson (5-9, 170 lbs.) and Chad Jackson (6-4, 200 lbs.) combine to add nearly ten points per game to NKU's scoring total.

Off the bench, Cole Murray, Tyler White, Anthony Monaco and Jake Giesler, all of whom have seen starting duty this year, average, between 16 and 22 minutes per outing, giving head coach Dave Bezold some decent depth to work with.

Overall, NKU's stat lines and play are about what you'd expect from a 3-4 team. There aren't any jarringly negative numbers, but none that jump off the page, either. (They are handsy and aggressive on defense, picking up 142 fouls through seven games.) If the Norse get hot from three (Cole, Jonson and Monaco are particular threats) they could make some noise, and given West Virginia's spotty play in transition from press to halfcourt defense, it would be safe to assume they will get some decent looks.


OUTLOOK

West Virginia's terrible halfcourt defense gives most opponents hope when devising game plans, provided they can get the ball upcourt past the Mountaineer press.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sun Dec 7
6:00 PM E
Bank of Kentucky
Center

Highland Heights, KY
Records
WVU 7-1, 0-0
NKU 3-4, 0-0
Series
First Meeting
TV
ESPN3
Sirius/XM
135/199
RPI
WVU - 69
NKU - 165
Even though WVU was able to force 24 LSU turnovers, it lost the game because it offered less defensive resistance than the Maginot Line in the halfcourt. When the Tigers were able to beat the front of WVU's pressure, it attacked with abandon, willing to give up a couple more turnovers due to pace in exchange for getting quick looks at the hoop. And with West Virginia totally deficient, other than Brandon Watkins, in contesting Tiger shots, LSU converted enough easy hoops to make up for the giveaway total.

That's going to be an area of focus going forward, but it's not the kind of thing that will see dramatic improvement. Hopefully, the first steps will be seen against NKU, but even if it does it might be attributable to the talent gap as much as anything. Still, there are signs to watch for, including stopping the ball when the first line of the press is broken, guards dropping down and rotating when penetration is made away from their side of the court, and more than the occasional defensive rebound of a first missed shot. Executing items such as this are simply habits, so there's no time like the present to begin building good ones.

Offensively, WVU has to make more shots. Sounds simple, right? Huggins bemoaned the missed lay-ups in the LSU game, but that might not be something that gets fixed. Other than Jonathan Holton, none of West Virginia's post players have anything resembling a consistent move or the ability to get shots off against interior defenders, and that's not Holton's forte. There haven't been any signs of improvement in this area over the offseason, either. One possible solution might be to invert the offense, bring the bigs out high and post up guards on the inside. Jaysean Paige did this successfully once against LSU, and BillyDee Williams might have the strength and size to do it too. That's a set to watch for, both now and in the future.


FAST BREAKS

West Virginia is tied for 330th out of 351 Division one teams in defensive rebounds per game. The Mountaineers are getting just 20.3 per contest. The only "name" teams below WVU are Tennessee (338) and Marquette (348), and those squads are a combined 6-6. Like the football team overcoming its gaping turnover differential deficit, WVU has had to battle to overcome this critical shortcoming in every game this year.

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NKU assistant coach Kevin Schappell spent three years as a graduate assistant for Bob Huggins at West Virginia (2007-10) before returning to his alma mater.. Schappell was an honorable mention all-conference selection during his junior year and scored 868 career points for the Norse.

That's not the only tie between WVU and NKU. Junior guard Anthony Monaco is Bob Huggins' nephew. His mother Karen is the Mountaineer head coach's sister. Think the Norse might have an idea of what to expect from Huggs?

* * *

With four assists, Juwan Staten will move past Dale Blaney (331) for 16th place on West Virginia's career dish list. That's an impressive feat, considering that Staten has only been in the WVU program for a little over two active seasons. If he averages just three per game the remaining way, he will easily crack the top ten while surpassing 400 for his Mountaineer career.

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The Norse are 3-0 in games in which they hold a halftime lead so far this year, but 0-4 when they trail at the break.


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