The biggest shakeup for the Knights since their first meeting with the Mountaineers was the elevation of freshman Quincy Douby to the starting lineup against the Owls. Douby responded by lighting up Temple for 28 points, which was a career high. Douby gives Rutgers a more consistent outside threat to pair with Ricky Shields, and that duo complements Herve Lamizana, who can shoot from anywhere on the court but is at his best when putting the ball on the floor and going to the basket.
There may not be a team in the country that has a bigger gap in their level of play at home versus on the road than the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers appeared disjointed and without rhythm in a pair of late season losses against Virginia Tech on the road and at Madison Square Garden, yet looked nothing like that team as they rallied to defeat the Owls at home.
Rutgers is at its best when they get Lamizana moving on offense and creating shots. When that is successful it opens the perimeter for players like Douby and Ricky Shields, and even, as WVU found to its chagrin, role players such as Sean Axani.
WVU's shot blocking machine must be careful not to lose track of Axani, who isn't a big offensive threat but hurt the Mountaineers early in their loss in Piscataway.
|Mon 3/21 7:30 p.m.|
WVU - 97
RU - 56
Fischer must make sure not to pursue chances for blocked shots and leave Axani open, as he has proven that he's capable of getting to the basket for stickbacks and points. Whether WVU is in a 1-3-1 or in man to man, Fischer must know where Axani is and account for him as both a secondary offensive option and on the backboards.
Offensively, Fischer has been a bit hesitant in recent games. He needs to get the ball, make a strong move and take it to the basket hard. If the Knights choose to defend him with Axani, he needs to put his counterpart on the defensive in more ways than one. A couple of drop steps and strong moves to the offensive hoop, especially early in the game, would go a long way toward establishing Fischer's presence in this game.
Against Rhode Island, Fischer announced his presence with several spectacular rejections and a school-record nine blocks. In this game, his offensive play, and his team defensive awareness, could prove to be the critical play phases.
On the surface, the Knights have a decided edge in this contest, if for no other reason than it's on their home floor. WVU, however, believes that at least some of the reason for their poor play in last month's game was due to a hangover from the 100th year anniversary celebrations and big effort against Pitt the Saturday before that Wednesday contest.
Whatever the reasoning for that loss, this game has a different atmosphere. While both teams were playing for a possible NCAA spot in that game, they knew that a loss wouldn't end their season. This time, it will.
West Virginia's coaching staff has likely been watching tapes of Rutgers' two games with Virginia Tech. The Hokies defeated the Knights twice after the Mountaineers' game in Piscataway. If they are able to learn some lessons, and, more importantly, implement them with WVU's personnel, the Mountaineers might have a better chance at a victory that would put them one win away from a return trip to New York.
To come out with a win, West Virginia must be able to limit the open looks of Douby and Shields. That will likely open some opportunities for Lamizana, but he has had an uneven stretch to close the season, and doesn't seem to be playing with the confidence that he displayed during the first half of the year.
D'or Fischer's nine swats against Rhode Island were not only a school record, but also tied the all-time NIT single-game mark set by three other players. Fischer joins Ralph Sampson of Virginia, Brad Sellers of Ohio State and Roy Rogers of Alabama atop the list.
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The Scarlet Knights shoot almost exactly the same percentage from the field as their opponents. Rutgers is hitting 41.6% of their shots, while foes are shooting 41.4%. The difference comes from three-point range, where the Knights hold a 36.4% - 30.1% advantage.
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Rutgers managed just 3423 fans for their home NIT game against Temple.
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The last time WVU won three straight games in the postseason was in 1981, when the Mountaineers defeated Penn, Temple and Minnesota on their way to the NIT Final Four.
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If the Mountaineers need any motivation, they shouldn't need to look any further than this quote by Gary Waters on ESPN Radio after their victory over Temple:
"The funny thing is, if West Virginia wins on Friday, a Big East team, we play them, and then if Villanova wins, another Big East team, we'll play them after that."