Canisius guards Kevin Downey and Chuck Harris are an experienced pair in the backcourt, but their shaky shooting makes them less of a threat than many backcourt combinations faced by the Mountaineers. Downey (Sr., 6-3, 205 lbs.) is shooting just 43.2% form the field, while Harris (Sr., 6-3, 185 lbs.) is even worse at 33.8%. In Downey's case, that mark is puzzling, as he is a 95% free throw shooter who also makes 38.2% of his three pointers – perhaps demonstrating that he should either shoot from long range or attack the basket to augment his 16.0 points per game scoring mark. The pair are respectable ball handlers as well, running 1-2 on the team in assists.
The team's primary, and sometimes sole, force up front is Darnell Wilson (Jr., 6-6, 210 lbs.), a smooth wing player who has diversified his game this year. Wilson is hitting a sparkling 61.6% of his shots, averaging 13.6 points per contest to go along with his team best 5.5 rebounds per game. Nineteen of his 44 boards are on the offensive end, which means the Mountaineers will have to put a body on him to keep him from boosting his excellent percentage. He also leads the team in blocked shots with ten.
The Golden Griffins started four guards in their last game, with Joe Young (Fr., 6-0, 180 lbs.) and Jon Popofski (Sr., 6-2, 190 lbs.) joining Downey and Harris to make a small starting lineup. The former is not much of a scoring threat, but Popofksi is averaging 7.9 points per game, albeit on 37.9% shooting from the field.
If the Griffs decide to go bigger, they can put Ola Matti (Jr, 6-7, 210 lbs.) or Corey Herring (Jr., 6-5, 205 lbs.) on the floor. Both have starting experience and have been productive to date. Matti averages six points per contest, while Herring betters that with 9.3 per outing. Herring is also an excellent free throw shooter, hitting 88% of his tries.
|Fri Dec. 30|
WVU 7-3, 0-0
CC 1-7, 1-1
WVU – 132
CC - 309
The most interesting aspect of this game might be head coach John Beilein's reaction to coaching against one of his former teams. Beilein steadfastly maintained he would not want to play Richmond, but perhaps enough time has passed to ease any such concerns about playing the school where he was the head coach from 1992-97.
Coming off a big win over Oklahoma, the natural concern would be for a letdown. However, the Golden Griffins are struggling, having lost by 22 to St. Bonaventure – the only notable team on their schedule to date. Only a meltdown of catastrophic proportions would result in a Mountaineer loss, however.
With that in minds, one thing to watch for in this game might be the progress of freshmen Alex Ruoff and Joe Alexander. After a high flying start, Alexander has appeared frustrated and out of sorts in his few minutes of playing time, and hasn't demonstrated anything close to the precision movements required by the Beilein offense. Ruoff, on the other hand, has shown some progress, and would likely be on the floor more often if the Mountaineers weren't so stocked at guard. As conference play looms, Beilein is still effectively playing a short seven-man rotation, which might prove to be insufficient over the next two grueling months. If Alexander can show any progress at all, he could earn at least a handful of minutes per game. If not, WVU might be forced to put Joe Herber at forward for those stretches when Ruoff, or both J.D. Collins and Darris Nichols are on the floor simultaneously.
The Golden Griffins are something of a foul prone team, most likely due to the smaller lineup they often feature. Canisius has committed 142 fouls in their eight contests to date, allowing foes to get to the line 144 times. Wilson, battling alone up front at times, has 30 of those whistles, and has fouled out of three games already this year.
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Mike Gansey is hitting a ridiculous 50% of his shots from three-point range. WVU's buzzsaw has made 26 of his 52 tries this year to date. Only Vernon Odom, who made 18 of his 32 tries in 1985, has a better season average.
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Despite it's 1-7 record, Canisius is outscoring its opponents in the first half by a total of 17 points. It's the second half that has been the Golden Griffins' downfall, as they have a deficit of 53 points in the closing period.
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Kevin Pittsnogle deserves a bit more credit for his rebounding to date. He's averaging 6.1 boards per game – an improvement of more than two per game over his career average coming into this season. Although he's never going to be a 10 per game guy, the few extras he is picking up this year have made a big difference for WVU. If he can keep his average there through the Big East season, the Mountaineers will have a much better chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.