Since the first meeting, St. John's went from the penthouse (an upset win over UCLA) to the outhouse (not the name of the strip club where players apparently met an independent contractor for some after-hours work). With the departure of nearly half the roster, the Johnnies will struggle to simply finish out the season with their heads held high.
We're the first to admit, however, that college hoops is a funny game. Some of the walkons and lesser-known players who now are in the spotlight for the Red Storm might have a game or two in them where they rise above their abilities and give trouble to their opponent.
St. John's has already gotten respectable play from their resturctured team against Boston College, and although the Mountaineers are favored, WVU can't walk out on the floor and expect a win to be handed to them.
WVU forward Kevin Pittsnogle vs. St. John's forward Kyle Cuffe
Another inside out battle between Pittsnogle and a physically stronger foe should be the highlight of this game.
|Wed 2/11 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 12-8, 4-5
SJ 5-15, 0-9
WVU - 72
SJ - 145
Cuffe figures to be one of the focal points of the offense now that Ingram has departed. Although Daryll Hill still remains on the perimeter, St. John's best chance to win games now appears to be to slow the game and work the ball inside for higher percentage chances. That likely means a heavy dose of Cuffe, who can get to the basket and operates in the lane well.
Like Pittsnogle's developing game, however, Cuffe is not one-dimensional. He can shoot the three, and also puts the ball on the floor well when he receives it on the wing.
The winner of this battle is likely to be the one that is able to show the better-balanced game. If Cuffe hits a couple of threes, or if Pittsnogle can continue to build on his inside play, their respective teams will get a big boost toward winning this contest.
This game could end up as a reversal of styles from the first contest. The Red Storm will likely look to slow the game in deference to their short bench and shorter experience, while WVU could run more as they try to improve their transition game. Of course, that doesn't mean the Mountaineers are going to throw up shots at the pace of Bo Kimble's Loyola Marymount teams, or that Daryll Hill is suddenly going to walk the ball up and become a passer rather than a shooter. However, don't be surprised to see a difference in the way each team runs their offense.
Each team has gone through a major change in its lineup this year. WVU has rallied from the departure of its bellweather scorer and remained in the race for a postseason tournament bid. St. John's, coming from further down the conference standings, performed reasonably well in its first contest with a restructured lineup. How they respond in their first road game since the incident will likely tell the tale of the rest of their season. Will they continue to scrap and hang in some games the rest of the way, or will they fold their tents?
Although West Virginia's season scoring averages apeear a bit skewed due tho their mid-season lineup change, the Mountaineers are actually mounting a well-balanced attack in conference play. WVU has four players (Kevin Pittsnogle, 11.4 points, Tyrone Sally, 10.7 points, D'or Fischer, 10.4 points and Patrick Beilein, 10.3 points) averaging in double figures in Big East play.
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St. John's continues to hack away at opponents, and it hurts them at the foul line. Red Storm opponents have attempted 101 more free throws than the Johnnies this year, and converted 85 of those chances. That's an average of four more points a game for St. John's foes.
In conference games, it's even worse, as opponents have outscored SJU by more than seven points per game at the line.
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Former assistant men's basketball coach Ron Rutledge, who was a Red Storm assistant from 1978-92, has rejoined the team as a volunteer assistant. Rutledge was elected to the University's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 for his service to the school.
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Walkon Jonathan Curran made the first two-popinter of his career in the closing moments of the UConn game. Curran's only other score in a Mountaineer uniform came on a three-pointer against Pitt last season.
While walkons are often overlooked, players like Curran, Nick Patella and Duriel Price are one reason that WVU is improving. Their play as opponents for the WVU regulars pushes the Mountaineers to get better.