Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia, Richmond Meet in Thanksgiving Vegas Clash

It's at least a few steps up in competition for the West Virginia basketball team as the Mountaineers take on Richmond in the first round of the Sin City leg of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.

SCOUTING THE SPIDERS

Richmond is off to a good start in pursuit of a high finish in the Atlantic 10. The 3-1 Spiders feature a pair of big men who do lots of work, a sharpshooting guard who can also deal assists, an array of 3-point shooters and depth along the front line that should keep them from being overwhelmed if injury or fatigue affects a player or two.

Most impressive in that group is senior forward Terry Allen (6-8, 240 lbs.) who is averaging 19.8 points and 7.3 points per game. Supported by 6-9, 235-pound T.J. Cline (18.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and 6-8 Virginia Tech transfer Marshall Wood (10.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg), the Spiders can throw a good bit of height and size at opponents. Guard ShawnDre’ Jones (5-11, 165 lbs.) is an effective long range sniper who has a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio, while senior Trey Davis (6-5, 215 lbs.) can play either guard or forward. He’s coming off a career high 17-point performance in Richmond’s win over Wake Forest.

Richmond head coach Chris Mooney’s Princeton background (he was a 1,000-point scorer for the Tigers) shows up in many ways in Richmond’s offense. All of the Spiders are part of a movement-based offense that gets everyone involved in the passing game, and results in a pair of big men (Allen and Cline) leading the team in assists. They’ll likely be called to help in breaking West Virginia’s pressure defense in the backcourt as well.

There are some potential holes in the Richmond arsenal, however. They were outrebounded by 16 in the Wake game, and all of their opponents except Bethune-Cookman have topped the 50% shooting mark from the field. They have offset that with stellar shooting of their own (see below) but they haven’t been stressed by any of the defenses they have faced so far. That has helped contribute to their low turnover rate (10 per game, 26th nationally), but the Spiders also protected the ball well last year, as they set a school record by giving it away just 9.9 times per outing.

GAME OUTLOOK

This early in the season, it’s not often to see a base of comparison between out of conference opponents, but we have just that in the West Virginia – Richmond match-up on Thanksgiving evening, as the teams share three common foes. The Spiders dropped an unexpected 87-75 decision to James Madison, but brushed off Stetson (108-85) and Bethune-Cookman (89-64) in their opening pair of games in the tournament. While comparing scores is always fraught with danger, a look at video and stats from the games shows that the Spiders are well capable of knocking the Mountaineers from their Top 25 perch.

The game features what should be a tremendous match-up between Devin Williams and Richmond’s Allen, who have very similar styles of play. Both are strong, physical players who rebound the ball well, attack the glass and get a ton of shots around the rim. Both pass the ball well, and can step out to the midrange to hit jumpers. Without a doubt, the West Virginia coaching staff will be pumping Williams up for the challenge. It’s going to be a battle of wills – each player does the same things very well, and each will be trying to limit the other in those same areas. The one that keeps the other off the glass, where so much of their games spring from, will give their team a big edge.

Other mirror images are also in play in this intriguing contest. Both the Mountaineers and the Spiders are shooting better than 50% from the field, with WVU just above that mark while UR is at a gaudy 52%. WVU’s numbers are built close-in attempts by Elijah Macon (76%) and Williams (60%), with Jaysean Paige (61%) and Daxter Miles (56%) providing accuracy from longer ranges. Richmond’s mark is a team thing, as eight players are above the 50% mark. Only a pair of lightly used subs aren’t shooting the eyes out of it for the Spiders.

While some of this game will come down to which team simply makes its open shots, the defenses will also be important. Limiting open looks is going to be critical, as will getting an advantage in the number of shots taken. WVU will, as usual, try to build its advantage in that area with its press, but the Spiders’ ability to protect the ball sets up another very interesting match-up. UR doesn’t necessarily have to beat West Virginia down the floor and take quick shots – it just needs to avoid empty possessions where it doesn’t get a shot at all. If it can do that, it likely will be able to match the Mountaineers in the shooting department.

Following the Bethune-Cookman game, several WVU players noted that were ready for an increase in competition, and that they needed it to see just how far they have progressed. Jonathan Holton took it a step further, noting that getting away from home was also a good thing, in order to see how the team reacted in different environments. That too will be a factor to watch, as the Spiders already have a road trip under their belts, having knocked off Wake Forest of the ACC a week ago. While WVU only has a couple of newcomers who will be making their first Division I road trip, it’s still something that has to be adjusted to each year.

PRESS POINTS

West Virginia is currently averaging steals on 17.2% of its opponents’ possessions, good for second in the NCAA behind Cincinnati (17.6%). Last year, the Mountaineers swiped the ball on 15.2% of its foes’ possessions.

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Brandon Watkins recently had his surgically repaired knee checked out. While head coach Bob Huggins didn’t have a report yet on the results, his progress bears watching. Huggins noted that he basically has just a ten-man rotation at this point ( Logan Routt and Lamont West appear headed for redshirts) so if Watkins is cleared to play, he might avoid the redshirt that many predicted for him at the start of the year.

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Daxter Miles and Jonathan Holton have started every game (39) of their West Virginia careers. Holton’s run ends after this season, but Miles is taking aim (admittedly far off) at Joe Herber's school record 128 starts. Herber also started every game he played in at WVU – a 100% mark that Miles is also currently chasing. Of course, any number of factors could halt Miles’ streak, but if the Mountaineers continue to make postseason runs, he could get to Herber’s mark. Devin Williams, with 69 starts to his credit, could also threaten the starts total, provided he completes all four years of his collegiate eligibility.

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If Richmond’s head coach was in football, he likely wouldn’t be starting his 11th season in college. Mooney’s career at Richmond began with a 37-54 record over his first three seasons – grounds for immediate dismissal in the nutso college football coaching world. However, UR stayed with him, and he has responded with eight consecutive winning seasons, including six postseason appearances and an NCAA Sweet 16 in 2011.

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No disrespect to the title sponsor of this event, but “Continental Tire” brings up bad memories of the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, a game in which West Virginia's football team put on a desultory performance. After taking an early 10-7 lead, the Mountaineers folded their tents, yielding 31 consecutive points in a lifeless effort. To top it off, the Virginia band, for the second time at a WVU game, mocked West Virginia with a sanctioned performance of tired stereotypes aimed at belittling the Mountain State. While I’m over that for the most part, any reference to that bowl game brings it back, even though it’s more annoying than anything at this point.


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