SCOUTING THE COLONELS
After getting off to a 6-1 start, admittedly against a less than stressful schedule, EKU has hit a rough patch, dropping four of its last six. Included in that stretch were back-to-back defeats to Kentucky by 21 points and Marshall by 24, thereby clearly showing the fallacy of comparative scores as a measure of team strength. The Colonels have some solid players fueling their strong offensive up-tempo game, but have some holes defensively that have plagued them in their losses.
EKU gets much of its scoring punch from its frontcourt and wings, where all three starters average well above double figures in scoring. Senior Jarelle Reischel (6-7, 210 lbs.) leads EKU with 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, and like most of his teammates, ranges from the lane to the 3-point line to do damage. He’s hitting a stellar 53% of his shots from beyond the arc, and is also deadly from the free throw line, where he cans 84% of his attempts. His versatility makes him very difficult to slow in EKU’s efficient offense. Right behind is junior Javontae Hawkins (6-5, 210 lbs.), who averages 17.8 points per outing. He’s not as accurate from three, but is still enough of a threat to have to be accounted for when he steps out. Freshman Nick Mayo (6-9, 220 lbs.) helps inside, adding 12.9 points and 4.2 boards per contest. He’s yet another excellent shooter who helps the Colonels make more than 50% of their shots from the field.
Out front., Paul Jackson (So., 6-1, 180 lbs.) and Isaac McGlone (Jr., 6-2, 175 lbs.) hold down the starting spots. They combine for 10 points per game, with Jackson handling most of the playmaking duties while also being the getter shooter. McGlone is more of a facilitator and ball mover, although he takes good advantage of his limited shooting chances by knocking down 55% of this threes.
The downside for the Colonels is that they have a good deal of trouble slowing down foes defensively. They yield 49% shooting to opponents, and while they have forced 218 turnovers in 13 games to get some extra possessions, when teams do hang on to the ball they usually enjoy a good rate of success. The Colonels balance that with the 11th best effective field goal percentage in the country (57%) but are 305th in defensive efficiency. If they can improve on that number, they have enough offense to win most games, but they are likely to be involved in a lot of high-scoring affairs if they can’t better their play when they don't have the ball.
Without a doubt, Eastern Kentucky watched the first few minutes of the West Virginia – Marshall game and saw what could be a path to victory. The Colonels, current eighth nationally in 3-point shooting percentage, will take every early opportunity they get to fire away from their preferred spots on the court. WVU won’t back down from its press, but will it make the Mountaineers more hesitant in trapping, especially at half court? Beating the trap from there will usually result in a chance for an open three, and with seven players shooting 42% or better from distance, their options won’t be limited. WVU might drop a bit quicker when EKU gets the ball across half court in order to be able to close better on 3-point shooters, so this is definitely an item to watch. Do the Mountaineers go for double teams all the way down the court, or do they switch to a 2-2-1 or another press look and emphasize getting out on the shooters the Colonels can spray across the court?
|WVU (9-1) vs. EKU (8-5)||Mon Dec 21||7:00 PM|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: Tied 1-1|
|RPI: WVU - 54 EKU - 243||TV: ESPNU||Sirius: 145|
West Virginia has learned it can win games without Devin Williams playing his best (or when he’s sidelined with foul trouble) but that’s a lesson it doesn’t need to repeat. Williams can help that by toning down, just a bit, the elbow hooks and positioning physicality he employs on the offensive end. Granted, that’s part of his game, and he shouldn’t suddenly start playing like a Euro big man. But is he can be a bit more subtle in turning the corner with the help of an arm hook, and use his strength without banging away on opponents, he can remove one or two fouls per game. If he can get to the point where he’s on the floor 29 or 30 minutes per outing, WVU is going to be much better offensively. He’ll have a big physical advantage against the EKU front line, and should be able to wield his strength without picking up unnecessary fouls.
The mental aspect of the game could be a factor to keep in mind. WVU just finished up finals, and followed that with the trip down to Charleston for the Marshall game. Almost all of their classmates are already at home for the holidays, but the team has to finish out this contest before enjoying its Christmas break. Head coach Bob Huggins sees some positive things in that regard, noting that his team “did some pretty good things” in practice on Saturday. The key will be in keeping that enthusiasm and effort going, and not looking forward to the longest break they will have for the remainder of the season.
In the end analysis, this is something of a different test for West Virginia. The Colonels will force the Mountaineers to guard and be disciplined when they get the ball across the half-court line, and that work should help WVU learn that simply putting pressure on the ball all the time won’t automatically lead to wins. West Virginia can take this opportunity to improve its defensive transition – from the full court press to matching up man-to-man in the half court, and not allowing open shooters while it makes that switch. This isn’t something that is ever going to be 100% successful, but it’s an area in which the Mountaineers must improve. Keep an eye on this as the ball crosses half court, and compare the number of open shots vs. those that are contested. That’s a stat that indicates just how well West Virginia is progressing in that transition.
WVU will have its longest break of the regular season following the EKU game. The Mountaineers will get a nice break for Christmas, and will reassemble in Morgantown for practice on the 26th-29th before hitting the court again in Blacksburg, Va., against Virginia Tech on Dec. 30.
Seven of EKU’s eight wins have come at home, where the Colonels are a perfect 7-0. Their only road win came at Savannah State.
This game was shaping up as a past vs. present matchup until earlier this year, when EKU head coach Jeff Neubauer left to take the top post at Fordham. While that move might appear to have been a bit of a head scratcher in terms of name recognition, the Rams do play in the Atlantic 10, and their New York City location allows access to some good recruiting. Neubauer was an assistant at WVU from 2002-05 during John Beilein’s tenure with the Mountaineers, and was the head coach at EKU for ten seasons. Neubauer was replaced by Minnesota assistant Dan McHale.
EKU could be able to match WVU’s depth, at least in terms of numbers. Twelve players on the roster average at least 8.6 minutes per game, with nine tallying at least ten per contest.