Forward Antonio McMillion leads UMES in scoring, but like many smaller schools the strength of the Hawks' lineup is found in the backcourt. That strength could be hampered, however, if guard Jesse Brooks is unavailable for duty against the Mountaineers.
Brooks (So., 6-0, 170 lbs.) averaged 13.5 points per game and led the team in steals before leaving the Hawks' game against Kansas State with an injury. An all-MEAC rookie selection last year, Brooks scored almost two-thirds of his points from beyond the three-point line this year. He did not play in MES' last two games, and his status for the WVU game is in question.
Ed Tyson and Corey Brown will make up the starting backcourt if Brooks can't go, with Brown the fill-in for Brooks. He averages 12 points per game in an average of 28.9 minutes per outing, so the experience factor shouldn't be an issue, as he has been the first man off the bench in the backcourt. Brown (Sr., 6-0, 160 lbs.) actually shoots better from long range (37.3%) than Brooks, and has also chipped in with 11 steals (second best on the team). Tyson (So., 6-2, 200 lbs.) also averages double figures, sporting a 12.4 points per game mark, and assists in rebounding duties with 3.6 per outing. The strongest and biggest of the UMES guards, he takes the ball inside on offense and doesn't have much trouble in getting shots away.
On the front line, the aforementioned McMillion (Sr., 6-5, 205 lbs.) is the go-to guy. He has three double-doubles on the year, and averages 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He is strictly an inside player, having missed all nine of his three-point attempts this year. Look for West Virginia to match a forward up against McMillion when the Mountaineers deploy their man-to-man defense.
Aleksandar Popovic (So., 6-10, 210), a native of Novi Sad, Serbia, is a solid complement to McMillion. He scores at a 7.1 points per game clip, and pulls in 5.9 rebounds per game. Most of those shots come on close-in attempts to the basket, which he capitalizes on by shooting at a 58.5% rate from the floor. Fellow Serb Milutin Mirjacic completes the front line, but is not an offensive threat, averaging just .7 points per game. Mirjacic (Fr., 6-7, 200 lbs.) has made just three of 20 shots from the floor, and often gives way to one of several subs off the bench.
Those players include Brandon Moore (So., 6-9, 195 lbs.) who, like Mirjacic, is a defense-and rebound-oriented player, and B.J. Nimocks (Jr., 6-7, 210 lbs.), who averages a rebound for every three-plus minutes he spends on the court. Moore also plays the enforcer role, having fouled out in three of UMES' ten games this year. Shondale Robinson(Sr., 6-5, 215 lbs.), who missed all of last season with an injury, is also working his way back into the rotation. He averages just nine minutes per game, but has scored 16 points and hauled in eight rebounds during his eight appearances this year.
After a diet of shorter lineups, West Virginia faces something resembling a "traditional" lineup against Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Hawks will field a big man in the middle, and although Popovic is certainly not the physical equal of some Big East behemoths, the offensive and defensive looks provided by UMES will at least be more familiar to the Mountaineers.
|Wed Nov 28|
WVU 9-1, 0-0
MES 2-8, 0-1
WVU - 113
MES - 265
Beilein, of course, doesn't talk about such things often, as that would violate the mantra of "taking one game at a time". And certainly, the coach knows that dropping a game such as this one, unlikely as it might be, would put a major crimp in West Virginia's postseason hopes, whether of the NIT or NCAA variety.
On the court, West Virginia should also be looking to improve its execution on backdoor opportunities. Many factors go into getting a backcut that results in an open layup, including the defense being player, communication on offense, the play being run, and precise timing. If any of these factors don't fall into place, the result is typically an open man that doesn't get the ball, or a "pass to no one" that ends up bounding out of bounds.
While those sorts of errors are understandable, they can't happen against the better teams in the Big East. West Virginia has hoped to make up for the loss of some scoring with more transition and defense-generate hoops, which has been the case so far. (WVU's three-point shooting has also been better than expected, which also helps in that area.) However, the Mountaineers have been far short of the number of points generated by backcuts and screens a year ago, and must shore up that area of the offense in order to reduce its dependence on the three-pointer in league play.
MES: Jesse Brooks (Ankle) Questionable
UMES has just four players that have made a three-point shot. One of those, little used sub Danijel Krleski, has taken (and made) just one. McMillion and Mirjacic are a combined 0-19 from beyond the arc.
Those that have made one aren't exactly burning the nets either. UMES' three-point shooting percentage is just 27.7%. Combined with an all-attempts average of 39.4% and a dreadful free throw percentage of 59.9%, it's easy to see why the Hawks struggle to score.
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The UMES game will be the third in a monster six-game home stand for WVU. After the run is completed (with conference games against UConn, Villanova and St. John's), the Mountaineers will play back-to-back home games just once (Pittsburgh and UCLA) the rest of the season.
Although West Virginia couldn't turn down the opportunity to move the UConn game to Dec. 30 for a date on ESPN2, it is getting frustrating to have basketball games scheduled up against bowl trips – not to mention conference games.
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Under John Beilein, West Virginia has gotten more out of its postseason play than any team in Mountaineer history. Although Beilein's streak of three consecutive years in postseason play is far short of WVU's school record of nine (from 1980-1989, WVU made the postseason every year), no team, over a three-year span, has played more NCAA/NIT games than Beilein's three squads over a three season stretch.
During that time, West Virginia has played ten games and won seven. The previous record was nine, set twice over three-year spans from 1957-60 and 1958-61. Those streaks, however, included a consolation game against St. Joseph in 1960, which are no longer part of the NCAA format.
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West Virginia has never lost a game against a MEAC foe. The Mountaineers are 7-0 against teams from that conference.