SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
New Hampshire owns wins over Lesley University (if you can locate that school with Google, kudos to you) and Temple, but backed those up with a loss to Abilene Christian on Thursday. The 'Cats battle a low shooting percentage from the field, having hit just more than 40% of their shots, but are respectable from distance, with a 33% success rate from behind the 3-point line. Still, that results in just 66 points per game for UNH, which has to up that ante if it is to challenge for the America East conference title.
The win over Temple certainly had UNH looking with optimism at the early part of the season, but the home loss to ACU, marked by bad shooting and poor ball security, took some of the shine off that win. Still, UNH should be a step up in competition from WVU's first two opponents.
Senior guard Jaleen Smith (6-4, 205 lbs.) hit for a career high 27 points in the ACU loss, which helped boost his early season average to 18 points per game. He's also a strong rebounder who must be accounted for on both ends – he averages 9.7 per contest, the second best mark on the team. Junior forward Tanner Leissner (6-7, 230 lbs.) is averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and an even 10 boards per outing, giving the Wildcats a nice 1-2 inside-outside combination. Point guard Daniel Dion (Sr., 6-0, 175 lbs.) is also a scoring threat, averaging 11.3 points per game while holding a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio.
New Hampshire will test WVU's ability to defend on the perimeter and then rally to the defensive glass. All five of the Wildcat starters are threats to launch from long-range. Dion and Jordan Reed are the chief threats, with 19 and 18 attempts so far this year, but no UNH starter has fewer than nine 3-point tries. Running foes off the line and not allowing them open looks for threes are a key part of West Virginia's defense.
|WVU (2-0) vs. New Hampshire (2-1)||Sun Nov 20||1:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 2-0|
|RPI: WVU - 76 / UNH - 237||TV: ROOT Sports||Sirius/XM: 953 / 199|
Mountaineer coaches will also be looking for signs of improvement in the press and with the ability to stay in front of opposing dribblers. Mount St. Mary's got far too many easy shots at the rim in the second half against West Virginia, and much of that was caused by an inability to stop straight-line drives at the hoop. While this isn't a reason to press the panic button yet, it is something to track and watch. Do the Mountaineers have enough quickness or tenacity to slow UNH drives?
This game should serve as a good stepping stone to next week's contests against Illinois and either Temple or Florida State. Certainly, it's one the Mountaineers should win, but it also one that could be a measuring stick for what has been improved since last Monday, what still needs work – and what might wind up being scrapped.
Head coach Bob Huggins noted that the time is approaching for WVU to begin cutting down its rotation if players don't perform. That shouldn’t be taken to mean, though, that Huggins wants to cut it no matter what. He has no preconceived notion about how many players he wants to play. If the Mountaineers run 11 or 12 deep, he'll play them all if they deserve it. But, by the same token, he's not going to play guys just because they played before, or because he wants to have a certain number involved. Watch those rotations, along with minutes played, and you should start to get an indication of who is positioning themselves for time as the season progresses.
This game, along with the home contest against Manhattan on Nov. 28, is part of the NIT Season Tip-off, which also includes the two games in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Thanksgiving weekend. The games are so designated so as to comply with NCAA scheduling rules, which permit either a total of 29 regular season games without playing in a multi-team tournament, or 27 games with a maximum of an additional four games played in a multi-teamevent. It's a bit of bending the guidelines, but one that every power school is using. One of the few limits on the multi-team events are that all games must be played within a two-week time frame.
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One of Huggins' stated goals was to reduce the number of turnovers West Virginia commits, especially ones that immediately follow steals or turnovers generated by the defense. While he hasn't been totally happy in that regard, the Mountaineers do have a 2-1 edge in this department so far. WVU has forced 47 turnovers while committing just 23, and is turning the ball over on just 11.7% of its possessions.
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Nathan Adrian, point forward? While West Virginia needs guards to handle the ball and bring it up court, it has been running much of its offense through Adrian, who is the best passer on the team at the moment. It's not that he's dropping flashy dishes or trying for the highlight pass (a plague that several of his teammates succumbed to last Monday), but rather that he moves the ball, reverses it, and in general gets it to the right person at the right time. It may sound simple, but it's more difficult than it sounds, and he has been excellent at it. He has nine assists (second-best on the team) and only two turnovers. That's only bested by Jevon Carter (10 and 1).
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With three guards in the starting lineup and a decidedly perimeter-oriented game, New Hampshire is generating free throw chances on just 16% of its possessions.
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Blowouts in the first two games contribute to the fact that WVU has just two players (Adrian and Carter) who are averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Esa Ahmad is right on that mark, but everyone else outside of walk-ons James Long and Logan Routt is averaging at least 9.5 minutes per game. (This excludes Daxter Miles, who has yet to play due to illness.)