For the second game in a row, West Virginia faces a team with an unconventional nickname. This time, it's Slippery Rock, which used to be known as the Rockets, but now prefers a trendier moniker: "The Rock". Slippery Rock is trying to rebound from a horrendous 2-25 mark a year ago, and was picked last in its division of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
Slippery Rock's three-guard offense figured to be geared around the strengths of retuning starters Erroll Robinson (6-3, 200) and Matt Schaefer (6-3, 180), but both players had rough outings in The Rock's exhibition loss against Cleveland State. Robinson did not take a shot in 29 minutes, while Schaefer was 0-5 from the field, scoring just two points, although he did dish out six assists. Junior guard Jamar Scales (6-3, 205) scored 15 points and snared six rebounds to help take up the slack in the backcourt.
Senior forward Glenn Reepmeyer was a force on the front line, scoring a double double with 16 points and ten rebounds, while fellow starter Joseph Vines (6-5, 235) a strongly-built presence that could cause problems for the Mountaineers in the paint, chipped in three points, two rebounds and four fouls. His playing time was curtailed by those foul problems, and should increase against WVU.
Off the bench, junior guards Brandon Thompson (6-4, 200) and Kenny Smith figure to provide the most support in the backcourt. Each played nearly 20 minutes against Cleveland State, although neither was a big scoring threat. Big Troy Yonkers (6-8, 260) could also give the slender Mountaineer front line some issues when he subs in on the front court. Like West Virginia, Slippery Rock is working to find its top eight or nine players, so it won't be a surprise to see some shuffling in its lineup. The Rock played 12 players against Cleveland State, and will likely put similar numbers on the floor against WVU.
Improved shooting will be the most obvious goal for the Mountaineers in this game, but it's not something head coach John Beilein will harp upon. He knows that if he tells his team over and over, "You have to shoot better", that he'll likely get the opposite result of the one he's hoping for.
|Tue Nov 14|
WVU 1-0, 0-0
SR 0-0, 0-0
WVU - 64
SR - NA
One area he won't be so tolerant in is missed timing on cuts and reads in the offense. Although West Virginia might have looked like it was running its offense effectively against Mount St. Mary's, there were, in fact dozens of instances where a cut or screen came a bit early or a bit late – just enough to mess up a play and prevent an excellent shot opportunity. Although WVU did get a number of good shots against the visiting Mountaineers, it also got no backdoor baskets and very few open shots around the hoop – hallmarks of a well-executed Beilein play. Against The Rock, Beilein will again be searching for those players that can run the offense and make the correct move at the correct time.
While Beilein raised some eyebrows before the season started when he discussed the possibility of losing an early game or two while he searches for his rotation, he certainly didn't follow through on that thought in the opener. He admitted he "really wanted to win the game", and thus played his top six for most of the waning moments of the contest. Look for that pattern to continue if the Slippery Rock game is close. He knows that he only has so many chances to win the 14-odd games it will take to get an NIT berth, and he can't afford to throw any of those away. So while West Virginia might continue to put some decidedly odd rotations on the floor during this game, if it's close at crunch time, look for the top six or seven to get the bulk of the playing time down the stretch.
Slippery Rock head coach Jamal Palmer is serving this year as interim head coach after the unexpected resignation of John Marhefka following last year's 2-25 season. He is one of the younger coaches in college basketball, having graduated from college himself in 1999. He played professionally overseas following his college career at Millersville, and only began coaching in 2003.
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West Virginia was tabbed for a 12th place finish in the Big East preseason coaches' poll. In each of John Beilein's four seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers have finished higher than their preseason prediction. Is there any better indicator of coaching success?
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Since Division II schools can't begin their basketball seasons until Nov. 15, this game is an exhibition for Slippery Rock. However, it does count on West Virginia's regular season record. Since Division I began play earlier in November, a number of schools, including the Big East's Seton Hall and Villanova, played games of a similar nature.
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Coming into this year, the thinking was that WVU would not approach last year's record- setting three-point shooting performance. In 2005-06, the Mountaineers attempted 967 threes while making 337, both of which smashed school records set the previous year. However, the Mountaineers fired up 33 treys against Mount St. Mary's in the opener, which would put them on pace to take 957 in 29 regular season games. That high number was partially caused by The Mount's tight 2-3 defense, but it still shows that this team is not afraid to pull the trigger from beyond the arc.
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Slippery Rock's exhibition game against Cleveland State came in the Wolstein Center, the site of the Mountaineers' thrilling NCAA wins over Creighton and Wake Forest in 2005.