SCOUTING THE NORSE
Northern Kentucky has some respectable wins on its resume, having bested Miami (Oh), Southeast Missouri State and Morehead State on the road and Delaware, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Washington at home. There's no pretending this is a giant-killing schedule, as it also includes teams like Brescia and Earlham, but the Norse have shown the ability to play well on the road, and have a decent RPI as they wrap up their non-conference schedule with the visit to WVU.
Led by a big four who account for nearly 70% of their team's scoring, NKU relies on production from three starters and a key sub who has made the move to the starting lineup. Forwards Drew McDonald (6-7 250 lbs.) and Carson Williams (6-5, 230 lbs.) are the stalwarts in the frontcourt, averaging 17.3 and 10.8 points respectively, while combining for nearly 14 rebounds per game. Guard Lavone Holland (6-1, 185 lbs.) runs the offense a bit shakily, with 42 turnovers against 46 assists, but is second on the team in scoring at 15.7 points per outing while hitting 43% from distance. He's supported by Cole Murray (6-7, 210 lbs.), who also has four starts, and contributes 10.7 points per outing, almost entirely from 3-point range. One hundred seventeen of Murray's 128 points have come from beyond the arc.
Six other Norsemen average at least ten minutes per game, with Jeff Garrett (4.7 points, 5.8 rebounds) the most productive of the group. Standing 6-6 and weighing 220 pounds, Garrett is one of several NKU players in that height and range weight that can cause a few match-up problems for opponents that choose to play three guard lineups or go small. The Norse are outrebounding opponents by nearly nine per game.
If, as West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins suggests, he only has “about three players” whom he trusts in the rotation, then this game is a a critical one from the aspect of putting together a lineup for the Big 12 league schedule, which commences a week hence. Of course, Huggins isn't above a bit of hyperbole to drive home a point, but a look at some of his substitution patterns in recent games suggests that he is still far from settling on lineups that can win consistently in the league.
|WVU (10-1) vs. NKU 9-3)||Fri Dec 23||4:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 2-0|
|RPI: WVU - 58 NKU - 136||TV: ROOT||Sirius/XM Internet: 962|
In WVU's two most recent games, four subs have appeared at the scorer's table after 4-5 minutes of action. In those, only starter Nathan Adrian has remained on the floor, and when his turn comes for a rest a couple of minutes later, Jevon Carter has been the one to take his place. This suggests strongly that the duo is the core of those players Huggins trusts at the moment, but past that it might be a bit murky. Veterans have “hunted shots” or slowed the offense by holding the ball or making some bad decisions, and while this hasn't been a December-long issue, it has cropped up enough to put Huggins on the offensive.
Also playing into this is the coaching staff's desire to get newcomers into the mix. With veterans up and down at times, attempts to get players like Sagaba Konate, Lamont West, James Bolden and Maciej Bender quality minutes have suffered. Huggins believes he will need contributions from all of them to win in the league – so far, it's been hit or miss.
With that in mind, a very close look at West Virginia's rotations and performance in this final game before the league schedule begins is in order. Often, in games of this sort, lineups can get jumbled, and hodgepodge assemblages can result. That won't be the case here – and the results will figure heavily in the early January league schedule.
West Virginia's rebounding margin is down a bit this year, and while that might have been expected due to the departure of Devin Williams, there are also some other, more positive reasons for the drop. One is that WVU, perhaps surprisingly, is shooting better from the field, which lessens the chances for offensive rebounds. While the Mountaineers have ranged from good to horrid at the free throw line, they are making more than 48% of their shots from the field. What's more, their effective shooting percentage is up to 54.3% – another indicator of more on-target efforts.
WVU is also fouling less, which results in fewer opposing free throws, and fewer near-guaranteed WVU rebounds. While West Virginia's board work isn't perfect – there are a few players whose totals are definitely lower than they should be – it is getting respectable results on the glass. Kudos to Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian and Tarik Phillip on the offensive end – almost 50% of their combined retrievals have come on Mountaineer misses.
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Daxter Miles is shooting 50% from both 3-point range (14-28) and the free throw line (8-16). That latter number is almost bound to improve, as Miles has been a selective shooter who hasn't forced shots. He's making 54% from the field – an outstanding number for a guard.
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How important is depth in a college basketball season? Even more than you might think. Just 11 games into the season, WVU has only seven players who have appeared in every contest. Granted, some of those have been coaches' decisions rather than injury, illness or discipline, but no matter the reason, these numbers show how critical it is to have a bench that is capable of playing. NKU likewise has just seven players who have played in all 12 of its games so far.
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For the second consecutive game, WVU goes up against a coach with Marshall ties. NKU head man John Brannen was a standout for the Herd as a player, and has the Norse moving in the right direction. He's 18-24 in his second season there, but has put together a team that could be a contender in the Horizon League.