UConn seemed to be having some chemistry problems early in the season with stars Josh Boone and Charlie Villaneuva, but since the turn of the calendar year the pair of sophomores has been outstanding.
Boone (C, 6-10, 230 lbs.) is nearly averaging a double double with 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He's also taken over shot blocking duties from Emeka Okafor, averaging 3.2 swats per contest. Villaneuva, who appeared out of sync early on, has averaged a double double over his last five games, and is now recording 12.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest.
As if that front line combination hasn't been enough, freshman phenom Rudy Gay (6-9, 220 lbs.) averages 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, which gives the Huskies the most potent front line in the conference.
The backcourt isn't quite as imposing, but is still very good. Sophomore Marcus Williams (6-3, 205 lbs.) averages just 6.6 points per game, but his sterling 7.3 assists per outing shows he has a solid handle on floor general duties, while junior Rashad Anderson (6-5, 215 lbs.) tosses in 13.2 points per game, good for second on the team.
The Huskies go deep into their bench, with four subs averaging at least ten minutes per game. Freshman guard Antonio Kellogg (6-3, 190 lbs.) gets the bulk of the backcourt backup time, averaging 4.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 18.1 minutes of playing time. Up front, it's a story of the rich getting richer, as junior center Hilton Armstrong (6-11, 235 lbs.), junior forward Denham Brown (6-6, 220 lbs.), and behemoth forward Ed Nelson (6-8, 260 lbs.) combine for 44 minutes per game off the bench. Armstrong records 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds to go along with 20 blocked shots, while Brown is the main scoring threat with 8.8 points per outing.
Pittsnogle faces the physical challenge of his life against the UConn front line, and must play with greater aggressiveness in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the Huskies' big centers.
|Tue Jan 25|
WVU 11-5, 1-4
UC 11-4, 3-2
WVU - 87
UC - 31
It's not as if the big Martinsburg native can't do it. He threw down a nice dunk in the Notre Dame game, and has jammed over opponents on other occasions in his Mountaineer career. However, more frequently, he hasn't taken the ball to the basket with authority, and as a result has often missed scoring chances.
If Pittsnogle repeats that pattern against the voracious Huskie front line, shots are going to be flying back at him at the rate of .30 caliber machine gun fire. UConn defends the hoop aggressively, and boasts four players with the ability to make game changing blocks in the lane.
The story is much the same on defense - a more physical Pittsnogle equals a better chance for a WVU win. While he is not a natural shot blocker, he does need to make an attempt to alter shots inside, especially when shorter players penetrate the lane. While he should concentrate on position defense and not go for blocks all the time against opposing centers, he needs to be more of a factor when guards come inside for shot attempts.
This style of play is obviously not Pittsnogle's strength. He shouldn't be expected to suddenly become Bill Russell in the lane. However, if he can bang UConn's centers around a bit, challenge shooters on defense, and take the ball up strong to the basket, he will give his team a much better chance at pulling an upset. Without physical, challenging play in the lane, WVU is likely to be swept away in a tide of power moves and easy shots.
Connecticut: A. J. Price (Head) Out
The Huskies are likely to be in a foul mood after blowing a 17-point lead in a home loss to Pitt, so there's not much chance of them being overconfident or overlooking the struggling Mountaineers. UConn will be intent on cleaning up its act and grabbing a valued league road win, so sneaking up on the Huskies probably isn't going to happen.
WVU, hoping to build on a reasonable second half effort against Syracuse, will be facing an entirely different defensive scheme than the Orange 2-3 zone, so it's difficult to think that any carryover in the bit of continuity seen on the offensive end in Syracuse will automatically occur in Morgantown.
One thing WVU will likely do is play the Huskies man-to-man a good bit, with a heavy dose of doubling down from the guards. If UConn has a weakness, it's from three-point range, but the fact is that UConn's inside game is so strong that they don't often have to resort to firing away from outside. Watch for the Mountaineers to play behind UConn's strong post players, then front them with help from the guards. West Virginia has little hope of defending Boone, Villanueva, Gay and Brown straight up, so look for them to double down and dare the Huskies to beat them from the outside.
If UConn is making three-pointers, the game will be over early. However, if they are off the mark, and WVU is able to slow down the visitors' inside game (no guarantee, as the Huskies have faced similar tactics much of the season), then the Mountaineers might have a chance to steal a streak-busting win.
Patrick Beilein is two three-pointers short of tying Steve Berger for fourth place on WVU's career three-pointer list. Beilein has 143 makes in his career. All time leader Chris Leonard has an even 200, a mark that Beilein should threaten late in his senior season.
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West Virginia needs a vocal and loud crowd for this game, rather than the sit-on-your-hands variety that has shown up for the past couple of contests. Apathy has again overtaken the denizens of the Coliseum, and that's a big problem for an underdog Mountaineer team.
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With the departure of Okafor, UConn's dominance in the blocked shot category was expected to lessen, but that hasn't been the case. The Huskies lead the nation in that statistic, putting them on pace to become the only school in NCAA history to finish first in blocked shots for four consecutive seasons.
The Huskies blocked a school-record 19 shots against Florida International, and also set a Big East record with 16 blocks in the win over Rutgers. If the Mountaineers don't take the ball up strongly and challenge the UConn defenders, that mark could fall on Tuesday night.
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D'or Fischer, of course, is no stranger to shot blocking himself. WVU's senior is currently 20th on the NCAA all time reject list with 369 swats. Thirty-one more blocks would give him the magic 400, and put him 16th in NCAA history. He needs to average three blocks per game the rest of the regular season in order to reach that mark.
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If, as expected, one or more underclassmen depart the UConn campus for the NBA following this season, the Huskies probably won't experience much of a dropoff. All three members of UConn's early signing class are consensus Top 50 players, including top-rated center Andrew Bynum.