\ Frank Salucci

Preview: West Virginia Looks For Cleaner Play vs. Mississippi Valley State

West Virginia is trying to correct some lingering problems from last season as it hosts Mississippi Valley State on Monday evening at the WVU Coliseum.


Mississippi Valley State opened the season with a 31-point loss at Northwestern, and serves as a West Virginia's second sharpening foe of the young season. They feature senior guard Marcus Romain (6-2, 175 lbs.), who averaged 18 points per game last year and scored 16 points in the opener, along with Amos Given (6-4, 200 lbs.) and Darrell Riley (5-10, 155 lbs.), who hit for 11 points each against the Wildcats off the bench.

Like many teams at their level, MVSU usually plays at a height disadvantage, and that will again be the case Monday in Morgantown. The Delta Devils list just two players taller than six feet, seven inches on their roster, which makes interior defense and battles on the boards difficult. MVSU did manage 32 rebounds against Northwestern, including nine on the offensive end, but things figure to be more difficult against WVU.

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The inside game will hope to get a spark from Terence Taylor (6-9, 215 lbs.) and Michael Matlock (6-6, 220 lbs.) but that duo combined for just four points and three rebounds in the opener. Guard Rashaan Surles (6-4, 175 lbs.) is expected to round out the starting lineup, but he was also held scoreless in the first game as was Taylor. MVSU’s starting five accounted for just 29 points against Northwestern in 98 minutes of play.

Head coach Andre Payne’s team struggled to find the range from the field and at the line against the Wildcats. They made just 37% of their shots overall from the floor, and were below 50% at the free throw line with a 14-29 performance. They did hit five threes, and might have to resort to more long-range shots in order to find space against the WVU defense.


This one’s all about West Virginia. After the Mountaineers recorded a sometimes-sloppy win over Mount St. Mary’s, head coach Bob Huggins was displeased, noting that the same errors of ball security and loose offensive play continued to plague his team. That will be a point of emphasis as WVU continues to work on the transition from its usually-frenetic defensive style to a more measured offensive approach.

WVU (1-0) vs. Mississippi Valley St (0-1) Mon Nov 14 7:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: WVU 1-0
RPI: WVU – 17 / MVSU: 345 TV: RootSports Sirius/XM: None

This is the type of game that lends itself in just the opposite direction, so it does provide a good test in that regard. While the Delta Devils did protect the ball fairly well in game one, they did not shoot or defend well, and that could lead to some hurried chances and impatience on the part of the Mountaineers as they try to exploit those weaknesses. The teams each had 77 possessions in their openers, so the potential is there for an up-and-down contest.

WVU also will be looking to return to full strength, as Daxter Miles, who sat out the opener with the flu (aren’t these guys getting flu shots?) is hoped to return. It was just the second game of his career in which he has not been a member of the starting lineup. If he returns to that role, that would return Tarik Phillip, who took the floor in his place at the start of the Mount St. Mary’s game, to his more accustomed and comfortable role off the bench.

A final item to watch is West Virginia’s rotations. The early season is the time to see how different combinations play together, and try to identify the best groups to put on the floor in different situations. Assistant coach Larry Harrison is a strategist in this regard, and you’ll often see him in consultation with Huggins on some of those substitution ideas. In many ways, this game, and the next one on Sunday, are about getting as many different variations on the floor as possible to find those most effective groupings.


MVSU’s defense had major problems in the opener against Northwestern. It yielded 58% shooting to the Wildcats, and allowed 1.209 points per possession. Put that up against West Virginia’s 1.121 points per possession scoring rate, and WVU figures to be able to find good shots.

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Brandon Watkins has a solid performance in WVU’s first game, scoring nine points and grabbing a tied-for-team-high eight rebounds. Consistency is his goal now – if he can keep around those marks through WVU’s non-conference season, he could finally reach the potential he has flashed throughout his Mountaineer career. Staying healthy is a key for him, but so too is forging night-in, night-out solid performances like the one he showed last Friday night.

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WVU has never lost to a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, of which Mississippi Valley State is a member. The Mountaineers are 5-0 all-time against that league.

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This time next year, WVU will be making an early, and lengthy trip for a game. The Mountaineers will face Texas A&M on Nov. 10 in the Armed Forces Classic at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. While the Mountaineers typically play a Thanksgiving event that requires a long, or even out of the country journey, this will be a different experience for a team that loses four seniors at the conclusion of this year.

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