Since WVU's crucial win at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, PC's winless streak in the conference has continued. The Friars did, however, defeat ACC foe Virginia by 19 points, which shows either a) Providence hasn't given up on the season or 2) The Big East is better than the ACC. Likely, both statements are true.
Providence played Villanova tough on the road before falling by eight points, and they don't figure to roll over for a Mountaineer squad facing another must win situation. The Friars' record can be partly explained by its schedule, which was rated second toughest in the nation in the latest RPI.
PC guard Donnie McGrath, who hit three treys against WVU before spraining his ankle and departing for the bench, had a 9-9 performance against the Cavaliers. His return will be offset by the departure of Gerald Brown from the team for personal reasons, and the absence of Dwight Brewington, who sprained an ankle against Villanova. Those absences will likely mean McGrath is on the court for longer periods of time, but that might not be a good thing for WVU, as the sharpshooter has made 22 of his last 29 three point attempts.
West Virginia perimeter defense vs. Providence guard Donnie McGrath
While the fundamentals of help side defense dictate that defenders more than one pass away from the ball drop off their men to assist against penetration, that rule has to be set aside when the opponent is the Friars' guard, who has been on fire from beyond the arc.
|Wed Feb. 9|
WVU 13-7, 3-6
PC 9-12, 0-8
WVU - 64
PC - 78
That's a bit more difficult than it sounds, especially when a team is playing a zone defense. When the ball swings away from a defender's side of the court, the first reaction is to take a couple steps toward the lane, in order to be in position to help inside. However, that can be deadly, as it leaves shooters like McGrath some space in which to spot up on the weak side of the floor, ad he did successfully in the early minutes of WVU's game in Providence just a little more than a week ago.
West Virginia will have to be conscious of McGrath no matter where he is, and make sure they are in position to recover and get a hand up on him when the ball is reversed to him.
WVU: D'or Fischer (Illness) Probable
PC: Dwight Brewington (Ankle) Out
As always, there's a flip side to the simple tactic we talked about in the matchup section. If WVU is forced to keep a defender on McGrath even when he's away from the ball, it opens up more space in the lane - the province of the Friars' Ryan Gomes. And as he demonstrated in the closing minutes of WVU's win, he has the ability to score against any defender the Mountaineers put on him in a man-to-man situation.
Therefore, the Mountaineers are left with a Hobson's choice - double down against Gomes, or go it alone while defending the perimeter against McGrath. Neither alternative is especially pleasing, so look for WVU to do something a bit different.
With the Friars very guard thin, Might WVU go to some sort of different rules in their defensive schemes? That is, stay on McGrath when the ball swings away, but allow any of the other perimeter defenders to drop inside to help against Gomes? The Friars are expected to start a three forward offense against WVU, and none of those players are three point threats. Watch WVU's defensive schemes early in the game - you might see something a bit different than you've seen for much of the season.
West Virginia is shooting 43.4% from the field on the season - exactly the same percentage as its opponents.
* * *
Mountaineer fans still grumbling about the results of the football season should note that expectations exceed actual results on a routine basis. Providence, with preseason player of the year Gomes, provides an excellent example. The Friars were expected to finish in the top half of the Big East and contend for an NCAA berth, but have yet to win a league game.
* * *
West Virginia's sterling performance from the free throw line against Pitt boosted them to second in Big East games only in free throw percentage. In contests with league foes, the Mountaineers are shooting 77% from the line.
* * *
On January 5, 1999, Providence was 40-59 from the foul line in a 90-87 win over WVU. Hopefully the Friars won't come close to those marks in this contest, but with the ticky-tack inside calls that have been made in the Big East this year, you never know. Memo to officials: Defenders, even ones smaller than their offensive foes, are allowed to stand still with their arms straight up in the air. If the offensive player initiates contact with the defender in such a situation, it is not a foul on the defender, even if he is three inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter.
* * *