Change The Pace

Young players and in-game adjustments highlight the mixed cocktail in tonight's game at Duquesne, a smaller team which provides a bigger change for West Virginia than any other two-game set the Mountaineers have played this season.

The two-sides/same-coin issue will be showcased by the heady, steady play of West Virginia and Duquesne's penchant for changing zones and applying pressure at surprising times. The Mountaineers (6-1) started the season against five foes in which they had the better players overall. The next two games were a battle of outside shooting against inside power, matches in which WVU earned a split decision. Tonight, when the foe offers to put up its Dukes, the test will be if West Virginia can react to the myriad of zones and pressure play while also facing a three-guard, two-forward lineup with quickness out the kazoo, but nothing similar to the inside prescience of Arkansas or North Carolina State.

Duquesne, 2-5 under first-year head coach Ron Everhart – a native of Fairmont, W.Va. – has a mishmash of zones designed to confuse a team, then swarm it to force turnovers. It has done so 110 times with a quick, flyweight-like frosh frontline that badly lacks experience teaming with a trio of guards. West Virginia will counter with a slower pace of play, preferring its motion offense and a 1-3-1 zone that has helped force 155 turnovers in the first seven games, an average of 22.7 per outing. Problem is, both teams have youth at key slots, which will make adjustments an adventure.

"We both have just one and a half days of prep because we just played games," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "You have to prepare to do a lot of things. It is a little bit like the North Carolina State game in that you have young players trying to adjust to changes on the move. They are zone one time, they are man another time. They try to keep you off-balance. It will be great experience for us."

West Virginia faced predominantly man defense against N.C. State, a bit of a surprise in that the Wolfpack was known to lack depth but would have to guard for a full 35 seconds against the motion offense. Duquesne also lacks proven depth, the roster offering almost all new players who have yet to jell, but have been used in dizzying combinations. That makes it increasingly difficult to know for what exactly to prepare. The one thing West Virginia can't do is be as hesitant as it was in the opening half against N.C. State, or the first 10 minutes against Arkansas.

It also can't get into a quick-shooting game at the Palumbo Center, a 6,200-seat prototypical small gym in which WVU has struggled. It has played down to Duquesne's level, which was at times miserable. This is also the Dukes' lone appearance in the Palumbo Center in nearly two months, so perhaps that will generate decent attendance. Each team has won four of the last eight meetings, though the Mountaineers are unbeaten in the last three. Three of the last four games have been decided by four points or less, with one going into overtime, so the series has a short history of tight games often decided by a couple possessions. Enter ball handling and the calmness of West Virginia's vets, two assets that will also help quell any Duquesne defensive hot spells.

"I know I have to be aggressive for us to be good," point guard Darris Nichols said. "They will pressure us. It's a whole different style of team than they had last year. They'll try to not let us run our offense and make us play faster. It will be all game long with some other things mixed in. You can't think too much like that. Sometimes you have to react and play on instinct."

Nichols has done that well, knowing when to push and when to set the offense. He has just seven turnovers in 217 minutes this season. Senior Frank Young, after an early shooting slump, has averaged 14.8 points per game in the last five after hitting for 14 total points in the initial two games of the year. That's a tough match for a Dukes' team that has lost its last five after winning its first two. West Virginia could get decent looks, as opponents have shot 50.8 percent from the floor against Duquesne. Some of that has come on breakout points because of the aggressive defensive style.

"We have to take that mindset that we had against the other power conference teams," Young said. "We'll have to play a complete game and get points any way we can because of the way they like to attack you defensively."

Notes: WVU leads the all-time series 45-36. Six of the last eight games have been decided by single-digits, and the past four games at Duquesne have been decided by fewer than 10 points with the teams alternating wins. The Mountaineers did receive one vote in the recent Associated Press poll. West Virginia has won its six games by a combined 134 points. This game will be the end of a five-game road trip that had WVU playing in Orlando, Charleston and Pittsburgh. The next six games are at the Coliseum. Duquesne has already played Northern Illinois twice, dropping both games. Everhart will look to even his career record with his 177th win. He is 1-1 against West Virginia, beating WVU with Northeastern in the Coliseum in 2003 and losing there with McNeese State in 1999.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories