Don't be fooled by the Friars' 9-9 record. Their schedule has been even tougher than WVU's. Five of their nine losses came to ranked teams, and another was at the hands of Kansas-killer Villanova.
Just as it did a season ago, it all starts up front with the Friars. All-American Ryan Gomes (Sr., 6-7, 240 lbs.) averages 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, and is the bell cow of the Friars' game. Finland native Tuukka Kotti (Sr., 6-9, 220 lbs.) is nearly in double figures with 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest, while Herbert Hill (So., 6-9, 220 lbs.) holds down the center position.
In the backcourt, Dwight Brewington (So., 6-5, 195 lbs.) has been a double threat. He averages 14 points per outing, but is also an excellent defender, with 26 points and 22 blocked shots on the season. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor, and has divided his shots almost equally between three-pointers and two-pointers. Point guard Donnie McGrath (So., 6-4, 190 lbs.) gives the Friars even more height in the backcourt, and does a little bit of everything as he runs the offense. McGrath averages 7.8 points per game, has a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio, and averages 94.4% from the free throw line.
West Virginia defensive strategy vs. Providence forward Ryan Gomes and guard Dwight Brewington
Since the Mountaineers aren't quick enough to play man-to-man for long stretches, they will have to choose which of Providence's two big threats they will try and take away.
Dunkin' Donuts Center
WVU 11-6, 1-5
PC 9-9, 0-5
WVU - 98
PC - 67
Against the Friars, WVU is faced with a similar choice. Will the Mountaineers collapse inside against Gomes, and hope that PC doesn't kill them from the perimeter, or will they go one-on-one against the big forward, give him his 25 points, and try to keep the rest of the Friars from helping enough to win the game?
It's a tough choice, and there's probably not a "right" answer. Gomes is likely to score no matter what defense WVU throws at him, but leaving Brewington alone could be an invitation to disaster as well.
The thinking here is that WVU will repeat the tactics they used against the Huskies, and work against Gomes on the inside. Look for the Mountaineers to again double down against the Providence star, and hope that the cold Rhode Island temperatures have a chilling effect on the Friars' outside shooting.
WVU: Mike Gansey (Knee) Will Play
PC: Gerald Brown (Foot) Doubtful
Since head coach John Beilein, like most coaches, dislikes putting too much emphasis on one game, I'll do it for him. This is a must game for WVU.
I'm not saying that the season is over if the Mountaineers lose, or that everyone should quit if West Virginia comes out with a loss. However, if WVU wants to put itself back on track for postseason play, they sorely need a win at the Dunkin' Donuts Center Saturday night.
Of course, Providence is in even a worse situation than the Mountaineers, as they are already at the .500 mark overall, and don't have a conference win. If the Friars are to get anywhere near the expectations they had coming into the season, they have to beat West Virginia on their home floor.
For WVU, perhaps getting away from the not-so-friendly confines of the WVU Coliseum will help right the shooting woes that have plagued the team for most of January. It also won't hurt to be away from the handful of supporters that boo when things don't go quite right. There's something to be said for rallying the troops in a hostile environment. On the road, there are few friendly faces, other than teammates and coaches, and sometimes that's the final boost a team needs to snap out of the doldrums.
It helps that WVU has played better in its last two games, even though they were losses. Had WVU played as well throughout January as it did against Syracuse and Connecticut, the Mountaineers would probably be sporting a 14-3 record at this point in the season.
As we said at the top, don't be fooled by PC's 0-5 Big East mark. The Friars have lost all five of those contests by a combined 26 points, and have been within four points of the lead within the final two minutes of every game.
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Last season, WVU's schedule was backloaded with difficult games, with UConn, Syracuse, Villanova and Pitt all showing up in a seven game stretch. Predictably, that led to some losses (five, to be exact).
This year, the schedule has been front-loaded. And although there are still a number of difficult games to play, WVU certainly has the ability to make a little run during February.
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Quick Quiz: What WVU basketball records are held by Jonathan Hargett? (And no, the answer is not most amount of money picked up at the Western Union office or most shots taken outside the offensive scheme.) No peeking - give this one an honest shot. Answer at the end of this column.
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Ryan Gomes' three-point field goal percentage of 37.5% is better than the mark posted by any PC guard. The addition of the three-pointer to his arsenal makes him much tougher to defend than most Big East big men.
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Providence freshman center Randall Hanke lists one of his nicknames as "Vanilla Gorilla".
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Hargett holds the single season and career free throw percentage mark of 88.1%. During his one season at West Virginia, Hargett made 89 of his 101 attempts.