Miami's struggles, along with some injuries, have led coach Perry Clark to start nine different players this year. That has led to a rotation that includes ten players averaging ten or more minutes per game.
Miami features a three-guard lineup for many games, but the centerpeice of their squad is forward Darius Rice, who is an all-around threat. Rice (6-10, 220) averages 16.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and is just as good in the post or slashing to the basket as he is from three-point land, where he's taken more shots than any other Cane.
Rice's frontcourt partner for this contest is Gary Hamilton (6-9, 245) who has started just one game this year. Hamilton posts just 3.4 points to go with his 4.3 rebounds, but is a big defensive presence who leads the team in blocks and also has 23 steals.
The starting guard rotation of Armondo Surratt (5-11, 165) Guillermo Diaz (6-2, 185) and Rob Hite (6-2, 185) are a respectable counterpoint to Rice's game. Diaz (12.0 points per game) and Hite (15.4) both benefit from the extra attention Rice gets, and neither is shy about bpulling the trigger from beyond the arc. Hite is also a solid rebounder, grabbing 3.6 boards per game. Surratt's primary duties are as a playmaker, but still averages 5.5 points per contest to go along with his four assists per game.
With guard Brandon Okpalobi down with an ankle sprain, Eric Wilkins (6-4, 195) figures to see more time than usual in the backcourt. Wilkins is a capable scorer (4.0 ppg) who doesn't shoot well from long range, but sports a 51.6% accuracy rate overall.
Frontcourt subs include William Frisby (6-8, 240) who averages 6.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game and figures to give the Mountaineers a tough time with his size and bulk, and Rodriguez Djahue (6-7, 270) another big body who adds 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest. Karron Clarke (6-6, 200) is more in the style of Rice, a slasher who isn't afraid to shoot from anywhere on the floor.
West Virginia self-confidence vs. West Virginia self-doubt
We're not devolving into a New Age touchy-feely preview here. It's just that the most critical matchup in this game is one that will be played out in the minds of the Mountaineers.
|Sat 3/6 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 14-12, 6-9
UM 14-15, 4-11
WVU - 93
UM - 151
|Margin: UM +2|
Whatever the results, it's coming close to being a mental issue for the team - they might almost expect something else bad to happen. And when it does, heads go down.
WVU has to find a way to battle and get out of the funk they are in. If the jumpers aren't going, get to the basket and draw contact. Get to the line. Redouble the defensive efforts. That's a difficult task for any team, much less a young team without an established leader, but it has to happen if the Mountaineers are to break this streak and head into Big East Conference tournament play on the right foot.
UM: Brandon Okpalobi (Ankle) Doubtful
West Virginia is playing only for seeding in the conference tourney, and to be honest it probably doesn't matter much who WVU plays in the first round. Other than Pitt, UConn or Providence, West Virginia should be able to play with any team in the league. By the same token, of course, the Mountaineers could lose to just about any of these teams as well.
The fact that the Mountaineers don't seem to have much to play for in this game is a bit troubling, especially given their struggles over the past two weeks. There were a lot of hanging heads, short answers and dispirted looks during interviews following the Syracuse game on Tuesday, and the fear is that it's a mood that will be difficult to break out of.
Miami, unfortunately, still has something to play for. The Canes kept their fleeting tournament hopes alive by upsetting Villanova on Tuesday, and can still make it to New York if they beat the Mountaineers and Virginia Tech knocks off Georgetown.
When your team is going bad, you highlight the positives. Miami notes that the Hurricanes have recorded 89 dunks (3.07 per game) this year. Surprisingly, it's Rob Hite, not Darius Rice, who leads the Hurricanes in dunks (28) this season.
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D'or Fischer's next blocked shot will be the 100th of his career at WVU. He moved into sixth place on the West Virginia all-time rejection list on Tuesday, passing Damian Owens (98). Fischer needs eight blocks to pass Darrell Pinckney (106) and move into the top five.,
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Although teams are shooting 45% against Miami, they are capable of producing stretches of good defense. This season the Hurricanes have held teams without a field goal for five minutes or more a total of 13 times.
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WVU is close to breaking a pair of team three-point records for the second season in a row. During the 2002-03 campaign, WVU was 203-593 from beyond the arc, both of which set new Mountaineer standards. This year, West Virginia is 191-553, with at least two games remaining.
Astute observers will note that, despite their recent shooting slump, West Virginia is shooting slightly better from three point range this year than last.