The Volunteers have been up and down so far this season, playing some good teams tough while losing to a couple teams of inferior talent. (Sound familiar?)
Tennessee looks to forward Vincent Yarbrough as the first option on offense, and Yarbrough responds by averaging nearly twenty points per contest. He is joined along the Vols three-forward front line by the recently returned Marcus Haislip and the powerful Ron Slay. Freshman Bradon Crump provides even more depth to Tennessee's frontcourt.
The Vol front line is somewhat unorthodox, in that they don't play a true center. Yarborough and Slay are very comfortable out to the three point line, while Haislip is very moble operating from the high post, where he is a threat to either shoot or put the ball on the floor for a power move to the hoop.
At guard, Tennessee is not quite as strong, but still good enough to burn defenses who sag off on the front liners. Thaydeus Holden and Jon Higgins each shoot well over 40% from three point land, but can be vulnerable to pressure.
The three pointer is UT's strong suit. One of every four field goals the Vols make is a three, and they are shooting over 40% from behind the arc.
WVU's Josh Yeager and Chris Moss vs. Tennessee's Vincent Yarbrough and Ron Slay
We're using a doubleheaded matchup this week, because we're not sure which Mountaineer will be on which Volunteer. We do know, hoever, that the winner of this matchup will win the game.
WVU 0-0, 6-2
UT 0-0, 5-4
|Sat 12/22 1:00 PM|
WVU leads 3-2
|TV: ESPN Game Plan
Local TV in WV
|Line: UT -9|
Moss will have to come out away from the basket to defend his man, while Yeager will likely see some time on the blocks and in the paint as his man posts him up.
It will be interesting to see how each player responds to the challenge before him, and also how Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson utilizes his multifaceted weapons against WVU's front line.
WVU: Jonathan Hargett (Knee) - Questionable
UT: Andy Ikeakor (Foot) - Out
Del Baker (Ankle) - Probable
After the Duquense game, this is one of those contests that most Mountaineer fans will be conceding as a defeat. Tennessee's strong front line figures to dominate West Virginia on the glass, while the Vols three point attack is expected to tear gaps in WVU's average defense.
Many times, however, things don't go as expected. Watch for WVU to go with their pressing lineup early and often to try to force turnovers from the Vols. Tennessee has 161 turnovers so far this season (that's even a higher rate than WVU), so getting them out of control would seem to be a priority.
We also wouldn't be surprised to see the starting lineup juggled a bit. Might we see Armstead and Schifino at the guards? With Jonathan Hargett's knee woes, we could see a totally different rotation int he backcourt. Could WVU counter with its own three forward look of Briggs, Yeager and Moss?
No matter who is in the game, WVU has to limit second chances. West Virginia has been far too generous in allowing second and third shots to its opponents. With Tennessee firing often from long distances, long rebounds and gaps in the defense offer opportunities on the offensive glass. WVU has to nip those in the bud to have a chance to grab a victory.
West Virginia needs four wins to become just the 19th NCAA Division I school to reach the 1,400 win plateau. Tennessee has 1,284 wins.
* * *
Tennessee and West Virginia have met in the postseason one time. In the first round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament, the 17th-ranked Mountaineers defeated Tennessee, 84-68.
* * *
Tennessee has won 38 straight non-conference games at home.
* * *