Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia Closes Calendar Year With Virginia Tech Road Trip

West Virginia looks to round out the calendar year with a win over neighboring Virginia Tech, but the battle is expected to be fierce in a sold out Hokie home venue.

SCOUTING THE HOKIES

Virginia Tech has built its 8-4 record against mostly lower level competition, with losses coming against Iowa State, Northwestern, St. Joseph’s and Alabama State. Their schedule hasn’t been awful, as their mid-pack RPI of 162 suggests, but things get decidedly tougher now, as WVU rounds out a pre-ACC slate that starts off with N.C. State, Virginia and Duke.

Featuring a nine-player rotation, VT gets balanced scoring from its backcourt. Newcomer Seth Allen (Jr., 6-1, 190 lbs.) and Justin Bibbs (So., 6-5, 200 lbs.) average 14.3 and 13.3 points, respectively. Allen gets many of his points from the line (he’s second on the team with 67 attempts) but isn’t a great percentage shooter (37.6%). Thus, it’s on WVU to keep him from drawing the fouls he’s accustomed to. He, like much of the Tech squad, is shaky in the ball handling department, so pressure without hacking will be the order of the day. Bibbs is much more accurate from the field, and has hit a whopping 61.5% of his 3-pointers.

Up front, transfer junior Zach LeDay (6-7, 235 lbs.) has played much better than he did in his two seasons at South Florida. He’s leading the team with 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, and will provide a challenging match-up with the Mountaineers’ Devin Williams. Like the West Virginia star, LeDay is very effective on the glass, and counts 51 of his 114 rebounds to date on the offensive end. Supporting LeDay is swingman Chris Clarke (Fr., 6-6, 205 lbs.) who is off to a very good career start with 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Tech has used four different players in its fifth starting spot, with the most recent being Devin Wilson, who averages nearly 25 minutes per game. Wilson has been more facilitator than scorer, and is one sound ballhandler on the team, having dished out 32 assists against just nine turnovers. Guards Justin Robinson (Fr., 6-1, 180 lbs.) and Jalen Hudson (So., 6-5, 195 lbs.) have also gotten starts and significant minutes, with each contributing six points per outing. Kerry Blackshear (Fr., 6-10., 240 lbs.) is the primary backup inside, adding 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in just more than 19 minutes per contest.

GAME OUTLOOK

The story of this game might come down to the venue, and West Virginia’s efforts to rid itself of very ugly memories of its last trip to Blacksburg. In that game, the Mountaineers built a 17-point lead but then completely fell apart in an 87-82 loss. A measure of redemption was gained in last year’s 30-point blowout in Morgantown, but for those who were on that team for the game two years ago, the memory should still be strong. Tech’s venue can be tough to play in, with its steep walls and dungeon-like atmosphere, and if the Hokies can get the crowd into the game it could be tough to overcome.

WVU (10-1) vs. VT (8-4) Wed Dec 30 12:00 PM
Cassell Coliseum Blacksburg, VA Series: WVU 48-30
RPI: WVU - 49 VT - 162 TV: ESPNU Sirius: 81

The battle between Williams and LeDay, mentioned above, will also be an important factor. Both, as inside dominators, will battle strongly to establish the upper hand. Williams must keep his composure and stay out of foul trouble against LeDay, who has committed just 32 this year. Williams has even fewer at 24, but has bunched those together in a couple of games, which has caused him to miss chunks of time. That aversion to fouling is spread across the Tech lineup, which is 16th nationally in fewest personal fouls per game. That fact leads to another stat, and one that will surely play a role – the Hokies have made more free throws this year (230) than their opponents have shot (172). Tech is outscoring its opponents by nearly 10 points per game at the line, and that’s a margin that West Virginia doesn’t want to bring into play. As always, WVU’s defensive approach factors in, with the battle between points created off turnovers vs. free or easy points at the line in the limelight.

For West Virginia, this is something of a trap game. Coming off the Christmas break, there’s always worry about attention and focus, but head coach Bob Huggins has indicated that spirited work was evident in the team’s first practices back. Still, with the Big 12 schedule commencing just a couple of days hence, WVU must keep its eyes on a team that would love nothing more than to spring into ACC action with a win over a Top 20 team. You can bet that Huggins has used that visit of two years ago as a teaching tool, especially as the Mountaineers have had some lackadaisical second halves after building early leads this year.

As WVU’s first true road contest, this game will also serve as a measuring stick for the Mountaineer playmakers. Granted, Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillip played in tough venues and in front of hostile crowds last year, but they weren’t in the primary roles -- those were held down by Juwan Staten and Gary Browne. This year, everything is on them, so this should be a good test and another building block of experience for the duo. Do they handle themselves with composure, and keep their teammates settled in the midst of a Tech run? Can they help them cut down on the turnovers that have eaten into the margin that WVU typically builds on defense?

PRESS POINTS

Tech has announced a sellout of tickets for this game. Is that a function of the contentious relationship between WVU and Tech? The proximity to WVU areas in the southern and southeastern reaches of the state? The starvation for basketball success in Hokieland? Or just the twin promotions of a local county school day and Virginia Tech Faculty\Staff Day? Whatever the motivation, the Mountaineers are going to be playing their first true road contest in what will be a raucous environment. The gladiator arena configuration of Tech's home venue amplifies sound and gives the feeling of playing at the bottom of a pit. That's much different than they few hundred that watched the Mountaineers in a casino venue in Vegas.


With Brandon Watkins limited playing time due to recovery from surgery, West Virginia doesn’t have a shot blocking presence at the rim. Elijah Macon and Esa Ahmad lead WVU with five blocks each, but the Mountaineers have just 25 as a team through 12 games.


Tech now has 12 double-doubles for the season, tops among ACC teams. That figure is the most double-doubles for the Hokies in a single season since the 2010-11 season, when they recorded 18.


Only all-time great Fred Schaus has had West Virginia ranked in the AP poll more than Bob Huggins. The Stomper put the Mountaineers in the top ranks 60 times during his career, while Huggins has had the Mountaineers placed in 48 weeks.


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