Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia Continues Las Vegas Invitational Play vs. Bethune-Cookman

West Virginia has pushed itself into national rankings, and looks to avoid the spate of upsets that have marked college basketball this year when it hosts Bethune-Cookman on Monday evening at the WVU Coliseum.

SCOUTING THE WILDCATS

The youth movement might appear to be continuing among Mountaineer opponents in this game, as Bethune-Cookman returns just two players from last year's team. That doesn't mean the 'Cats are entirely bereft of talent, though, as they feature eight players with previous collegiate or prep school experience. There are 16 years of Division I experience on the roster to go alone with five years of juco exposure. The challenge of molding all those disparate parts has to be one of the most difficult parts of head coach Gravelle Craig's job, but the fifth-year boss does have his team off to a 2-1 start, including a win over Tennessee-Martin.

Even with the roster turnover, B-C puts an experienced team on the court. Two seniors and three juniors make up the starting lineup, with 5-10 guard Jordan Potts leading the way in multiple roles. He's tops on the team with a 19.7 points per game average, and also leads the squad with nearly six assists per outing. He figures to provide a tough assignment for the Mountaineer defender who draws him, as he can't be played as solely a set-up man or a scorer.

Ricky Johnson (Sr., 5-9,160 lbs.) rounds out the starting backcourt, and averages 12 points per game, while the trio of forwards is led by Mario Moody (Sr., 6-7, 215 lbs.), who tallies 14.7 ppg and 9.0 rpg. LaRon Smith (Jr., 6-8, lbs.,) is the top man on the glass with 9.7 per game, while Randy Holmes (Jr., 6-5, lbs.) is very solid in a supporting role with 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per outing. B-C also gets good bench support from guard Josue Salaam (Jr., 6-4, 210 lbs.) and Diamante Lewis (Jr., 6-3, 195 lbs.), both of whom average around eight points per appearance.

B-C was picked in the bottom half of the MEAC in most preseason prognostications, most likely due to all of the unknown factors surrounding the transfers and newcomers to the team. However, Moody's inside play and the solid quartet of guards might have the Wildcats competing for a higher finish in the league, which includes a number of schools that WVU routinely faces in early season games.

GAME OUTLOOK

B-C dropped an 89-64 decision at Richmond on Saturday in the first leg of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, and continues its road swing with the visit to WVU this evening. The Wildcats shot the ball well in their first two games (both wins) but dropped measurably against the Spiders, which might be reflective of the level of competition. B-C got up and down the court a good bit in their openers, but were also loose with the ball, and figure to be susceptible to West Virginia's pressure game.

Devin Williams has been playing very well in WVU's early games, and one of the encouraging aspects is that he is taking advantage of mismatches to score and rebound. Earlier in his career, he wasn't always able to do that, so his string of double-doubles to start the 2015-16 season is another sign of the way in which he continues to improve. While getting to that level is tough, there's no reason to think he won't continue that level of play in this game. Now it's on guys like Elijah Macon to follow that path, and utilize their superior height and strength to do the same. Macon was 8-8 from the field against Stetson, so the hope for him is that he can begin to string together those types of performances on a nightly basis. It doesn't necessarily have to be double-doubles, but guys that hang out near the lane should be able to get 6-8 points and rebounds in these sorts of games.

It will also be interesting to see how WVU's guards respond. Jevon Carter played just 17 minutes against Stetson, and while he wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, didn't seem as in sync as he was in West Virginia's first two contests. Overall, WVU guards not named Jaysean Paige were just 2-14 from 3-point range, leading to a 5-21 overall performance. That's something that needs to get better as the Mountaineers prepare for much tougher competition over its next few games. They are making just 27.4% of their shots from distance so far this season.

This may be a recurring theme this year, but West Virginia has to improve its reactions and play when foes get the ball across halfcourt. The Mountaineers were merely average in the press against Stetson, and allowed far too much penetration when initial traps were broken. In the back of the press, WVU must get out from under the basket and cut down drives or force a pass against transition attacks, which will allow defenders to rally and close out on secondary shooters. So far this year, there have been far too many instances of ballhanders driving straight to the rim for close-in shots.

PRESS POINTS

Bethune-Cookman owes its name to the merger of two schools. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune founded the Daytona Training School in 1904, which later merged with the Cookman Institute in 1923 to form the current institution.

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Bethune-Cookman took a preseason trip to Bahamas at the same time as West Virginia earlier this year, and the two teams crossed paths more than once on their exhibition game swings. That trip may have helped the Wildcats meld its disparate roster, as they got off to their first 2-0 start since 2010.

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Devin Williams is one of 17 players to record double-doubles in each of his first three games this year, and is currently averaging 20 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Facing a B-C lineup that has just one player taller than 6-7, and no one that carries more than 235 pounds, the Mountaineer power player has to be considered a favorite to extend that streak to four.

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All 11 Bethune-Cookman players who have appeared in a game this year are averaging at least ten minutes per outing.


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