\ Kevin Kinder

SCOUT-ing: West Virginia Mountaineers - Manhattan Jaspers

Following long video sessions and lots of corrective action, West Virginia looks to put an ugly outing behind it as it hosts Manhattan in the final game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.


Manhattan has won two of its last three games, downing Hofstra and Detroit Mercy around a loss to Temple. After suffering a bit of a down season a year ago, the Jaspers are hoping to make another run at the MAAC conference title, which it won in 2014 and 2015 on the way to NCAA tournament appearances.

Like many mid-majors, Manhattan gets the bulk of its productivity from its guards. Junior Zavier Turner (5-9, 170 lbs.) is coming off a career-best 32-point point effort in the win over Detroit Mercy. He averages 19.4 points per game, and has hit 11 of his 28 field goals from 3-point range. Along with forward Zane Waterman (6-9, 220 lbs.), who averages 11.4 points and hits 44% of his shots from distance, the duo has nearly half of the Jaspers' three pointers. Waterman is also the squad's leading rebounder (7.4) backed by Ahmed Ismani (6.2), the lone true big in the lineup who stands seven feet, two inches and tips the scales at 285 pounds.

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Freshman guard Aaron Walker (6-2, 190 lbs.) had learned on the job quickly, averaging 10.2 points, while guard Thomas Capuano rounds out the starting five with 6.6 points per game.

Manhattan has not handled the ball well to date, suffering 98 turnovers against just 56 assists and 35 steals. They are capable of doing damage from the outside, as Na'Quan Council and Calvin Crawford join Turner and Waterman as shooters that must be accounted for from any range. The Jaspers have balanced that deficiency with extra possessions via rebounding, as they are first in the MAAC in both rebounding margin (+8.8) and offensive rebounds (14.6 per game). That will be tested against West Virginia's normally aggressive rebounders, but the Mountaineers will have to be diligent in accounting for the presence of one of the biggest centers it will face all season.


After a performance in which it failed to guard anyone in the first half, and missed pick-ups on key possessions in the second, WVU will focus on tightening its half-court defense on Monday evening.

WVU (4-1) vs. Manhattan (2-3) Mon Nov 28 7:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: Tied 3-3
RPI: WVU - 123 / MC - 196 TV: ROOT Sports Sirius/XM: 132 / 199

When the first wave of the press doesn't get a steal, attention must turn to rotations, recovery, and closing out on perimeter shooters. WVU did a poor job of stopping the ball from advancing against Temple, and when the Owls swung the ball from one side of the floor to the other, they got a plethora of uncontested shots. While getting those early steals are great, making rotations, slowing the ball down and closing out on shooters is just as, if not more, important for West Virginia. In doing so, it prevents those quick open shots and dives to the rim that Temple feasted upon.

Another item to watch is the play of the deep defender in the press. Usually, this will be either Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins or Sagaba Konate. Their primary assignment is to defend the rim, but they must also be a threat to long passes over the front ranks of the WVU press. They can't stay rooted in the lane a foot from the hoop – they must not allow passes from the backcourt to areas inside the 3-point line. Granted, this is a tough job, and it requires deception, hedging and a balance of aggressive play while also fulfilling that deep safety role. If they can do that, however, the Mountaineer press becomes much more difficult to defeat.

Finally, there's the passing game to consider. Next to scoring, one of the best ways to judge how well West Virginia's offense is flowing is by ball movement. In its wins (and specifically in its stretches of good play in them) WVU passes the ball. It swings the ball to create defensive movement which it can exploit, and makes good reads and passes in motion against man-to-man. When it doesn't do those things, the offense stagnates, and devolves to excessive dribbling and one-on-one challenges. Manhattan would appear to be the antidote for this, as it yields 16 assists per game (288th nationally). WVU, even with the Temple mess on its record, is averaging 18.8 per game, which is 12th in the nation.


West Virginia is seventh nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio with a sterling 1.67-1 mark. While some of that number is built on quick passes off turnovers that lead to lay-ups and dunks, it also highlights the importance of passing to the Mountaineer offense when it sets up in the half court.

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Manhattan owns one of the biggest upsets suffered by WVU. The Jaspers knocked off the #1-ranked Mountaineers 89-84 in the first round on the NCAA Tournament on Mar. 11, 1958. Perhaps WVU's finest team ever, the 1957-58 squad featured the heart of the Golden Era teams, including Jerry West, Willie Akers, Bob Smith, and Lloyd Sharrar. The loss was just the second of the season for the Mountaineers, who finished the season with a 26-2 record.

Manhattan also played well in its two previous meeting with WVU in Morgantown. The Mountaineers squeaked out one-point wins in each of those two games.

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After leading the nation a year ago in bench scoring at 33.3 points per game, WVU's backups are recording 42.4 this year.

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West Virginia native Shawn Finney is an assistant coach for the Jaspers. The 1985 graduate of Fairmont State has held coaching jobs for 30 years, including stints at Kentucky, Georgia, Tulsa, UCF and Tulane. He was the head coach of the Green Wave for five seasons.

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Manhattan's 11 non-conference games come against schools from 11 different leagues.

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