Unlike many of West Virginia's out of conference opponents, New Hampshire has a productive front line that can both score and rebound.
Sophomore forward Blagoj Janev (6-8, 220 lbs.) has come on strong as the season has progressed. He has started just five of UNH's eight games, but put up 31 points in the Wildcats' last two contests to take the team leadership in scoring at 13.0 points per game. He also snares 5.6 boards per outing. His counterpart, freshman forward Mike Christensen (6-8, 215 lbs.) has started every game of his young college career, and has contributed nicely, to the tune of 9.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Completing the solid front court is senior center Ben Sturgill, who provides both bulk (6-8, 250 lbs.,) and offensive help (10.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg).
The frontcourt subs can't be ignored either. Forwards Craig Walls (6-7, 210 lbs.) and Brandon Odom (6-5, 220 lbs.) chip in with 5.5 and 4.5 points per game, respectively, and combine for more than 44 minutes of court time per game. Walls has also started three games this year.
The Wildcats' frontcourt strength isn't a sign of guard trouble, however. Sophomore Jermaine Anderson (6-1, 175 lbs.) and freshman Chris Vetrano (5-8, 165 lbs.) provide scoring punch, with Anderson totaling 11.3 points per game and Vetrano 9.8. Vetrano, however, might want to concentrate a bit more on his ball handling duties, as he is shooting just 29.2% (14-48) from beyond the arc. Junior guard Ioannis Karolis (6-4, 200 lbs.) gets the only appreciable time off the bench in the backcourt (10.5 minutes per game), but is mired in a terrible shooting slump, hitting just four of his 21 attempts from the field so far.
West Virginia forward Tyrone Sally vs. New Hampshire forward Blagov Janev
Sally, coming off a quiet three-point performance against James Madison, will be looking to pick up momentum as the Mountaineers head into a much more difficult portion of the schedule.
|Tue 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 7-0, 0-0
NH 4-4, 0-1
WVU - 67
NH - 250
In Janev, Sally will face a player with similar skills to his own. The Australia native can shoot the ball both inside and out (he is the Wildcats' leading three-baller with 15), and is an effective rebounder as well. If UNH is in man-to-man, look for Sally to put the ball on the floor often against his opponent, as the Mountaineer senior may have an advantage in quickness.
Janev, on the other hand, might lean toward the post at times against Sally. He's still learning the American game, having played at UNH just since the midpoint of last season, but his improved strength and inside game are quickly becoming the equal of his three-point shooting ability.
This matchup should be a good one to watch. Sally and Janev have similar size and talents, yet emphasize them in subtly different ways. The methods in which they use those strengths to get the edge on their opponent figure to make an entertaining display.
NH: Chris Vetrano (Ankle) Questionable
While New Hampshire boasts a balanced scoring attack, with five players averaging more than nine points per game, the fact remains that the Wildcats aren't shooting the ball very well. UNH is hitting just 4.5% from the field to date, and hitting an even poorer 28.7% from three point range. Only Janev (44.1%) shoots better than 35 % from downtown. The Wildcats also have problems from the free throw line, converting just 65.2% of their chances.
Given those numbers, West Virginia figures to have a big advantage on the firing line on Tuesday evening. If each team gets an equal number of shots, the odds are, barring shooting percentages colder than recent temperatures in the Mountain State, WVU will be on the long end of the score.
This game should provide a bit of improvement in competition, however. WVU obviously expected to get pushed more by teams like James Madison, but other than Duquesne the Mountaineers haven't been seriously threatened by anyone, including SEC power LSU. New Hampshire, despite being picked ninth in the America East conference, has managed to blend a number of youngsters with veterans Sturgis and Walls to field a competitive squad.
For West Virginia, this game is a definite bridge contest. The Mountaineers need to continue the excellent team play they have exhibited so far while working on things like rebounding aggressiveness and offensive continuity in preparation for the two big non-conference battles to come.
Upon noting that the Wildcats have a Phil Collins on the roster, I immediately began picturing a big, beefy center with lots of aggression. (Bonus points for those who can make the association I did.) However, a quick search revealed that the Wildcats' Collins is a 6-4, 185-pound freshman.
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West Virginia is first in the nation in fewest personal fouls per game, but is that necessarily a good thing? Teams that don't get a lot of personal fouls are either poor defensively (which certainly doesn't apply to West Virginia) or not very physical (the jury might still be out on that one).
While no one wants to see a bunch of silly fouls, it wouldn't hurt for WVU to be a bit more physical and aggressive in going after rebounds. The players certainly have the mentality to do so, as they contest loose balls like a 6:00 a.m. shopper hunting Christmas bargains at Wal-Mart. If that aggressiveness can be turned to the boards, a few extra fouls would be a fair price to pay.
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The Wildcats have just 11 players on their roster, including four freshmen and two sophomores. Five of those six players are either starters or major contributors for UNH.
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Like West Virginia, New Hampshire took an out-of-country trip prior to the season. The only difference was that the distance traveled by the Wildcats was appreciably less than that covered by the Mountaineers. UNH played a three-game tour in Canada prior to the season.
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The Mountaineers have held their last four opponents to point totals of 44, 55, 47 and 48. That's the first time WVU has achieved that feat in four consecutive games in 55 years, when they turned the trick in seven consecutive contests.