St. Peter's puts a potent weapon on the floor in the form of 5-9 Keydren Clark, who was the leading scorer in the nation last year with a 26.7 ppg average. He rings up many of his points from beyond the arc (well over half of his field goal attempts were three-pointers) and at the free throw line, where he hit 83.8% of his attempts.
Teaming with Clark in the backcourt will likely be the senior duo of Terrance Watkins, who started six games last year, and Corey Hinnant. Watkins (7.3 ppg) is a take it to the basket player, while Hinnant, a 38% three-point shooter, is more likely to spot up outside.
The frontcourt has been crippled by the loss of two returning regulars, Ron Yates and Jamie Sowers, who are reportedly serving academic suspensions. Those absences will make the Peacocks very thin up front. Senior Ivan Bozovic (6-9, 260 lbs.) and sophomore Kinzey Reeves (6-11, 225 lbs.,) figure to be the primary participants in the paint, but neither was an offenisve force last year. Bulky senior Mark Curry (6-5, 270 lbs.) and freshman Todd Sowell (6-7, 235 lbs.) are the only two other frontcourt players listed on the roster, so it won't be a surprise to see SPC go with a three guard lineup.
A big part of the task of slowing Clark will fall on the shoulders of Collins, who will face off with the scorer in the 2-3 zone as well as in the Mountaineers' man-to-man.
|Sat 11/20 7:00 p.m.
WVU 0-0, 0-0
SP 0-0, 0-0
WVU - 55
SH - 55
One thing Collins does not want to do is foul his Peacock opponent. Clark shot just 41.5% from the field a year ago, but he more than doubled that rate from the free throw line. Simply by keeping Clark off the line, WVU might cut 8-10 points off his total.
You can also expect Collins to work Clark when the Mountaineers have the ball and try to wear him down. With so much of the SPC offense riding on his shoulders, Clark will probably exceed the 38.8 minutes per game he averaged a year ago. With that in mind, part of the WVU gameplan should be to force Clark into a lot of action on the defensive end.
With all the hype over big swingmen and 6-11 small forwards, this is a classic retro matchup of two small guards who have achieved big things at their respective schools. The offense of Clark against the defense of Collins should be worth the price of admission for basketball purists.
WVU: J.D. Collins (foot) will play
"Outlook is murky". At least, that's what my Magic 8-Ball says. For any opener, however, that's probably an accurate assessment. How will the newcomers blend? Will returning players be comfortable with whatever changes have been made?
Getting down to the details, I expect to see West Virginia try to force a player other than Clark to shoot the ball and score, but that strategy was doubtless employed by more than one team last year, with little success. However, the Peacocks' toughest game last year was against Seton Hall, and the Pirates managed to hold down SP in a 91-67 thrashing. Look for WVU to play more man to man defense than they did in most games last year. That's partly out of deference to Clark, but also in line with WVU's improved on the ball defensive abilities. At least that's the hope.
There will also be a lot of eyes on freshman guard Darris Nichols, who will draw the tough assignment of checking Clark when he's giving Collins a rest. Look for Nichols to play a steady, controlled game as he works his way into the WVU rotation. You don't figure to see a lot of wild shots - or shots, period - from the unassuming freshman, who has noted that he wants to get into the flow of the game and help the team rather than worry about scoring points.
With only two players 6-8 or taller, the Peacocks will be at a height disadvantage against WVU's front line. Look for Mountaineer center D'or Fischer to assert himself early against the Peacocks' depleted roster.
Credit for the following nugget goes to staff writer and bon vivant Matt Keller, who shows that there's a WVU tie in just about everything.
Current St. Peter's head coach Bob Leckie played on the Peacock team that went to the 1968 NIT semifinals under legendary head coach Don Kennedy. Kennedy, who died last month at age 97, is still one of the winningest coaches (323 wins) of all-time.
That 1968 tournament was won by Dayton, which defeated WVU in the initial play-in round in New York City. St. Peter's "first-round" foe? Marshall, which it defeated 102-93 in double-overtime.
St. Peter's knocked off Duke in the next round before falling to Notre Dame, 81-78 in the third-place consolation game.
* * *
This game was originally set up as a nod to WVU freshman Darris Nichols. Nichols' brother, Shane, played for the Peacocks last year, but is not on this year's squad after transferring to Wofford. He was second on the team in scoring with a 10.6 points per game average in 2003-04.
* * *
Keydren Clark's nickname is "Kee Kee". The WVU student section should have fun with that one.