UConn is ranked number four in the nation this week, and if anything the Huskies might be a bit undervalued.
It all starts in the center, where Emeka Okafor (6-10, 250) dominates play. Okafor's status as a shot blocker is known across the country, but he also leads the Big East in rebounding with 11.2 per game, and tosses in 19.1 points to go along with it. He's simply the best player in the country.
Forward Denham Brown (6-5, 220) holds down the second front line spot. He averages 12.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, and also shoots a lights out 47.8% from three-point range. At the other forward, Josh Boone (6-10, 230) is the anticipated starter, but could be held out because of a shoulder injury. That's of little concern to the Huskies, who could easily replace Boone's 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds with Charlie Villaneuva's 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds.
The guard pair of Ben Gordon (6-3, 200) and Taliek Brown (6-1, 195) is one of the best in the country. Gordon pours in 17.2 points per game, and averages 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists. He shoots 43.2% from three-point land and 80.5% from the foul line, and were it not for Okafor would be even more highly regarded. Brown averages just 5.5 points per game, but tops that with 6.2 assists per contest, and is outstanding in directing the Huskies' fast break.
Rashad Anderson (6-5, 220) and Marcus Williams (6-3, 200) get quality time in the backcourt off the bench. Anderson averages 9.1 points per game and has taken more threes than anyone else on the team other than Gordon. In addition to Villaneuva, Hilton Armstron (6-11, 230) is the Huskies' primary reserve up front, averaging 3.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per appearance.
Sometimes we have to look around for a spotlight matchup, but this one was almost too easy, as the leading shot blockers in the conference square off for a battle in the pivot.
|Sat 2/7 2:00 p.m.|
WVU 12-7, 4-4
UC 18-3, 6-1
WVU - 74
UC - 4
|Margin: UC +15|
Okafor can hit midrange jumpers as well as operate down low, so Fischer, whether in man to man or in the middle of WVU's 1-3-1 zone, will have to be aware of Okafor's whereabouts. He can't drop off Okafor to contest many other shots, or the crisp-passing Huskies will find the UConn big man cutting the hoop for some resounding dunks.
Fischer might have one edge on Okafor - his shooting range is even greater than the UConn center's. If Fischer can hit some outside shots, he could force Okafor away from the basket and open the lane a bit for his teammates.
UC: Josh Boone (Shoulder) Questionable
Wow - where to start? Other than perhaps some shaky free throw shooting, the Huskies don't have many holes. They defend tenaciously, rebound tremendously, and run a classic fast break by filling the lanes and beating opponents down the floor. In the halfcourt, their offense is marked by excellent passing and floor spacing which usually results in open shots. Simple, but very, very effective.
To stay in the game, WVU must shorten it by being patient on offense. That doesn't mean the Mountianeers don't want to fast break when they have the chance, but when it's not there, the Mountaineers need to try to keep the pace under control. They will also have to be conscious of getting back to defend against the UConn transition game, which will lessen their chances for offensive rebounds.
Finally, WVU simply must shoot the ball well. That seems fairly obvious, but West Virginia has manged to win games this year while shooting the ball poorly, as their win over Seton Hall while hitting just 35.7% from the field demonstrates. That won't happen in this contest. If the Mountaineers' shooting percentage isn't at least in the mid-40s, this game could get ugly.
West Virginia's bench has outscored their opponents' reserves in all but three games this year. Only George Washington, Villanova and Seton Hall's non-starters have tallied more points than their Mountaineer counterparts this season.
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UConn is second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, and fourth in the country in assists per game. I'd keep going, but I'm starting to get depressed.
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UConn head coach Jim Calhoun is locked in a battle with Syracuse's Jim Boeheim for the number seven spot on the winningest active Division I coaches' list. Calhoun has 665 career victories, trailing Boeheim by two.
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If WVU can keep a game close, they usually find a way to win. The Mountaineers are 7-1 in games decided by five points or fewer this year.
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All kinds of stats point out UConn's talent and depth, but this one might do it best. Six different Huskies have scored 20 points or more in a game this year.