Finals Over, Basketball Takes Stock

If there is a known coming out of finals, it is that the games are unknowns. Big losses or wins might blindside teams during the season, but know there's no contest as unpredictable as this James Madison one directly after finals.

That's the worry as favored West Virginia (6-0) plays host to James Madison (4-2) Saturday at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers have practiced three times – the last tonight from 6-8 p.m. – and watched no film as of Friday night in preparation for a team that has given it fits in the past.

"We have had teams play great games right after finals. We have had teams not play so well," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "It is really hard to gauge."

West Virginia managed a win over IUPUI following final exams last year, but it took Jo Herber's halfcourt one-handed three at the buzzer in a game expected to be much easier.

"You know how I feel about our team: We can lose to anybody, and hopefully we can beat anybody," Beilein said. "We are not to the point, like the Syracuses and Connecticuts, where we can play poorly and win."

West Virginia beat James Madison by three the last time the teams played in the WVU Coliseum, in 2003. It has never lost to the Dukes on its home floor.

"This team has played us real tough in the past," Mountaineer guard J.D. Collins said. "It has always come down to the last couple minutes. We don't want it to do that again. We've had to grind it out."

The difference this time is that JMU is starting two freshmen and two sophomores. That might not mean much in a major conference like the Big East or ACC, where the freshmen are often NBA-ready. But against the Dukes it could bode well for a WVU team creating more turnovers and committing less than at any time under Beilein.

WVU had 105 turnovers after six games last year. It has 58 (good for fifth in the NCAA) against 115 assists, and Beilein lists it as the biggest surprise thus far.

But," Beilein said, "our schedule was much tougher as it turned out. It wasn't on paper, but those teams ended up being pretty good. It's been easier so far."

WVU's lack of turnovers is giving it, on average, five to six more possessions a game.

"We're valuing the ball a lot more than when we were younger," Collins said of the veteran WVU squad. "But if James Madison turns it over the youth might help. When you're young sometimes you just go out and play so hard all the time, and that could be bad, too. Inexperience can be a help in that you forget mistakes faster."

The other sore-thumb style number is West Virginia's almost 10 threes per game, a number that might seem impossible to continue. It ranks the Mountaineers third in the NCAA.

"Boy, we'd love to have that number," Beilein said. "We'll shoot 20, 25, 30 per game. If we're knocking down 10 that means we're hitting at least 33 percent. Not every game, but we are usually a good shooting team."

WVU has five players shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

RIFLE REPORTS

WVU goes for its seventh consecutive win. The last time WVU has won seven in a row? The answer appears at the end of this column. The Mountaineers are 6-0 for the first time since 1982-83, when WVU won its first eight.

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A JMU assistant asked all media to leave the practice area where WVU player and coach interviews were to be held. Head coach Dean Keener "has a thing about people watching practice," the assistant said.

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A: WVU hasn't won seven in a row since 1996-97. After dropping a tough opener at Minnesota, WVU reeled off seven straight, including a 101-79 drubbing of Syracuse. A two-point loss to Georgetown ended the run. WVU ended the season with 19 wins, becoming just the second Big East team ever to win 19 games and not make the NCAA. The first? Villanova.


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