McNamara (Sr., 6-2, 180 lbs.) leads the team with 16.5 points per game, and is a deserved candidate for several player of the year awards, but he is not the only player the Mountaineers will have to contend with. Backcourt mate Eric Devendorf (Fr., 6-4, 175 lbs.) displays many of the same qualities as his upperclass partner, and is scoring 11.8 points per game. Like McNamara, he is an excellent free throw shooter, and is taking advantage of the extra attention paid to the senior by canning 39.5% of his three-point shots.
On the front line, Demetris Nichols has emerged from the shadow of Hakim Warrick to display his talents. Nichols (Jr., 6-8, 210 lbs.) tallies 14.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and forms one-third of a well-matched trio of frontliners that combines to play quite well together.
Fellow forward Terrence Roberts (Jr., 6-9, 235 lbs.) is a serious threat on both ends of the court. He averages 10.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and adds 39 blocks and 43 steals to his all around totals, making him perhaps the most valuable player on the team. Center Darryl Watkins' skills lean more toward the defensive side, where he has blocked 77 shots and is snaring 7.1 rebounds per game, but against the Mountaineers his offensive chances might get a look as well, as the junior's 6-11, 260-pound frame will cause problems for WVU in the lane.
Off the bench, guards Josh Wright and Louis McCroskey provide backcourt relief. Wright (So., 6-2, 175 lbs.) averages 4.9 points per game, while the veteran McCroskey (Jr., 6-5, 205 lbs.) has starting experience and contributes in all areas of the game. He chips in 4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per outing, and provides solid defense against both guards and small forwards. Matt Gorman (Sr., 6-9, 240 lbs.) is the eighth player in the rotation, and provides the most rest time for the frontcourt during his stints on the floor. He tallies 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
With a 1-8 record against Top 50 RPI teams, but a perfect 17-0 record outside that group, the Orange need another signature win or two to lock up an NCAA berth.
|Mon Feb 20|
WVU 18-7, 9-3
SU 18-8, 6-6
WVU - 29
SU - 32
For WVU, the battle is now to finish in the top four of the league and get a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament, and that path, while still fordable, is quite rocky. It has been a long time since the Mountaineers have won in the Carrier Dome, and the current team doesn't have many stretches of good play to pull out of the memory banks to build upon.
For WVU to be successful, it must keep star guard Gerry McNamara out of the lane. While he is still viewed as just a long-range sniper by some, it was his drives that kept the Cardinals off balance in Saturday's game. West Virginia must keep McNamara one-dimensional, otherwise he is capable of driving and either scoring or finding the open man against West Virginia's suddenly-wilting defense. If WVU is forced to play man-to-man, look for a physical Joe Herber to match up against McNamara in a battle of wills.
Syracuse is one of two Big East teams that John Beilein has never defeated at WVU. The other is UConn. The Orange have won seven consecutive games against the Mountaineers.
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A hallmark of Syracuse over the years has been poor free throw shooting, and that continues this year. The Orange are making just 64.1% of their free throws. Without McNamara's excellent 91.8% mark, the rest of the team is hitting a woeful 58.2%.
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Since being forced into a man-to-man defense for long stretches in several recent games, West Virginia's fouling rate has been on the rise. The Mountaineers committed a total of 51 fouls in its last three losses. A handful of those, of course, are attributable to intentional fouls at the end of those games, but the change in defense has certainly led to an increase in fouls, and opposition free throws, in the losses. The defensive change has also decreased the number of charging fouls the Mountaineers have been able to draw.
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For the first time this year, Joe Herber will not be the most experienced player on the court. Gerry McNamara, with 126 consecutive starts, is the nation's leader in that category. McNamara was in danger of missing a start after suffering a deep thigh bruise against Rutgers on Feb.1, but a fortuitous one-week break in the schedule allowed him to keep his streak intact when the Orange faced off against Connecticut.
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Syracuse's January and February have followed an interesting pattern. The Orange opened the first month with four consecutive wins, then lost the final four games of the month. February has been a pattern of alternates, as they have gone win, loss, win, loss, win in the first five games of the month. Mountaineer fans hope that continues, at least for one more game.