St. John's has continued to be surprisingly competitive as they rebuild from the disaster of a year ago. Since losing to WVU in early January, SJU is just 2-7, but those wins came over Pitt and Rutgers. The Red Storm have also played most of their opponents closely, losing by just a point to Notre Dame and Seton Hall and six to Boston College. Six of the Red Storm's last ten games have been decided by ten points or fewer.
The focus of the St. John's team continues to be guard Daryll Hill, who has the green light to shoot as soon as he leave the locker room. Hill averages 19.7 points per contest, and if he is shooting well, can keep the Red Storm in the game by himself. Forward Lamont Hamilton is the only other player averaging in double figures, with 13.2 points per game, but like the Mountaineers, the Red Storm can spread their supplemental scoring over a number of other players.
Despite reaching a point in the season where there doesn't seem to be much left to play for (the Red Storm are ineligible for the Big East or any post season tournaments), the team is still playing hard for first year coach Norm Roberts. That makes them a much more difficult foe than your average 8-13 team, because they know they only have a few games left in their season. Often, teams in this position will mail in a game or two, but that hasn't happened with this St. John's squad.
West Virginia center D'or Fischer vs. St. John's forward Lamont Hamilton
Fischer got the upper hand in the first battle between the teams' primary inside threats, and will need to again hold that edge for WVU to get a win.
|Wed Feb. 16|
7:00 7:30 p.m.
WVU 14-8, 4-7
SJ 8-13, 2-9
Fox Sports Pittsburgh
WVU - 66
SJ - 174
Going inside as the primary option hasn't been WVU's strong suit offensively. The Mountaineers often look uncomfortable when the ball goes into the post. Shots that should be taken sometimes aren't, and those that do often appear awkward. The offense also tends to stagnate a bit when the ball goes inside, with the finely honed read and react cuts breaking down on occasion.
Opponents have figured that out, and are now inviting WVU to go inside, rather than allowing them to fire open shots from the perimeter. The Mountaineers must make foes pay when Fischer gets the ball on the blocks, which he has the ability to do. WVU's big man is still learning many of the finer points of post play, as his prep basketball experience was limited. However, for West Virginia, time is running out. If teams continue to allow the ball to go inside, Fischer must take the ball strongly to the basket and force teams to defend him with more than one player.
On the other end, Hamilton is on his own tear of late. The sophomore is coming into his own, scoring 20 points or more in four of the Red Storm's last six games. Fischer must slow that rate, hopefully with a couple of intimidating blocked shots, and get St. John's primary inside threat out of his comfort zone.
West Virginia's faintly flickering NCAA tournament hopes are on the line in this game. The Mountaineers will have to win at least four of their five remaining regular season games, plus another one or two in the conference tournament to have even an outside shot at making the Big Dance. WVU let a winnable game slip away in D.C. on Saturday, and can't afford a repeat performance if they want to see their name called on Selection Sunday.
The first time out, WVU went inside to beat the Red Storm, with D'or Fischer scoring 18 points against the shorter Red Storm front line. It's not an automatic, however, that we'll see a repeat effort here. Fischer, a moody player at times, has to get involved early, otherwise he seems to disappear at times on the offensive end.
The strategy point of the day to watch will be the approach of St. John's defense. Teams have had recent success against WVU by flooding the three-point line with defenders and forcing WVU to move the ball inside. However, St. John's has to be conscious of the impact Fischer had in the first game (a 64-60 WVU win). Will the Red Storm adjust their strategy to match that employed by Providence and Georgetown, or will they make tweaks to shut down what hurt them in the first contest?
West Virginia, obviously, will also have a few wrinkles to display, but the key to this one appears to be the center position. Fischer's play, and West Virginia's reaction to the Red Storm's defensive maneuvers, will likely decide whether or not WVU is still on the thinnest of NCAA bubbles by the time this game is over.
WVU has 1,442 basketball wins, while St. John's boasts 1,676.
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Red Storm forward Lamont Hamilton professes to like the nickname "McNasty". Probably not the best choice for someone on a team rebuilding from a scandal involving a prostitute.
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A win would put John Beilein into the top 100 NCAA winningest coaches list. Beilein has 416 wins at four year schools, putting him 101st all-time.
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Due to their lack of size, St. John's depends on its guards for rebounding help. The four Red Storm guards have done their part, collecting a combined 14.7 rebounds per game.
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Although a local ESPN radio outlet serves as St. John's flagship station, Wednesday's game will be heard in the New York area on Radio Disney.