Southern Miss makes their living on the defensive end of the court. The Golden Eagles held opponents to just over 40% from the field last year, and stifled 13 opponents to a shooting percentage below that mark. It looks as if that trend will continue, as opening opponent Jackson State managed just 31% from the floor.
On the down side, the Eagles lost the backbone of last year's 22-win squad, and are rebuilding with a mix of freshmen and jucos. USM brought in a pair of 6-9 JUCO centers in Ben Lambert and Carey Rigsby to bolster their front line.
USM's top returnee is forward Elvin Mims, who knocked down 14 points in the opener, but senior guard Brad Richardson stole the show with 21 points against Jackson State.
The Eagles have seven newcomers on this year's team, which could lead to some early problems as Coach James Green searches for a combination that can provide some scoring punch.
|WVU 0-0, 1-0
USM 0-0, 1-0
|Fri 11/23 10:15 PM|
|Series: First Meeting|
|RPI: WVU-154 USM-154|
|Line: WVU -3|
The center position is surrounded with the most questions on this year's team, and this match-up should give WVU's fans an indication of where it stands.
We're not looking for Oliver to score, but he needs to keep Lambert off the boards and away from the hoop on the offensive end. Lambert, a JUCO transfer, showed scoring ability with ten points in the Golden Eagles' opening win against Jackson State.
The Mountaineers need to get ten points and ten rebounds per game from the center position. If they can achieve that level on a consistent basis, WVU will be a tough out for any opponent.
USM: Kilavorous Thompson (knee) Out
Look for USM to try to control the pace and keep the ball out of point guard Jonathan Hargett's hands once the ball crosses half-court. The Eagles will apply pressure on the ball to prevent open looks inside, and figure to try to put pressure on some of the younger Mountaineers in their first road test.
While WVU will always look to run, we expect a little more patience in the half-court set in this game. USM is expected to start a pair of 6-5 forwards in Elvin Mims and Clement Carter, so we expect Gale Catlett to attempt to exploit that match-up with bigger bodies inside. Small forward Josh Yeager will also enjoy a height advantage that should allow him to get his shot off more easily.
Even though this is a neutral court game, the unfamiliar surroundings could also play a factor. One of the most difficult things for Division 1 newcomers to adapt to is the stress of traveling and playing away from home. WVU's success in getting their freshmen settled and into the flow of the game will probably be a key component in the outcome.
USM has produced the MVP of the last two holiday tournaments they played in. David Wall, who graduated after last season, claimed both honors.
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WVU's record in opening road games is 43-48 all-time.
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Despite handling the ball on every possession and getting off 16 shots, freshman point guard Jonathan Hargett did not get to the foul line against UNC-Asheville.
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Contrary to the order of most tournaments, the host team will play the first game on opening night. New Mexico faces Pacific in the lid lifter.