With three returning players to build around, the Wildcats have done well in their non-conference schedule. Part of the reason for that is the fact that ‘Nova has one senior at each position on the floor, which allows that steadying influence to be spread across the lineup.
Up front, Curtis Sumpter (Sr., 6-7, 255 lbs.) is fulfilling his billing as one of the top frontcourt players in the league. He leads the Wildcats in both scoring (19.7 points per game) and rebounding (6.7). He has taken more than one-third of his shots from beyond the three-point line, which demonstrates his versatility on the offensive end. Alongside, Will Sheridan, who is listed as a forward but plays like a center, complements Sumpter's game with strength inside. Sheridan (Sr., 6-8, 240 lbs.) averages 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, and is also the team's leading shotblocker with 14. The third starter up front is Dante Cunningham (So., 6-8, 225 lbs.) who benefits from the attention paid to his senior cohorts. Cunningham is scoring 8.3 points and snaring 5.2 points per game. Backup Shane Clark (So., 6-7, 205 lbs.) has been impressive off the bench, outscoring both Cunningham and Sheridan with 9.6 points per game, with many of those points coming from three-point range. He also chips in 3.6 rebounds per outing, so the ‘Cats don't lose much when he checks into the game.
In the backcourt, longtime WVU nemesis Mike Nardi returns for what seems like his 10th season. Nardi (Sr., 6-2, 170 lbs.) is the kind of player you love to have on your team but hate to face. He's an offensive presence and a defensive pest, and plays all facets of the game well. Nardi tosses in 14.8 points per game, and is yet another long-range shooter that can't be left alone. To top it off, he's missed just two free throws on the season, and possesses a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Nardi has helped Scottie Reynolds (Fr., 6-2, 195 lbs.) assimilate the Villanova system quickly, and the newcomer has produced well. He too has a better than 2-1 advantage in assists over turnovers, and averages 8.1 points per game. Reynolds is the worst of the five shooters in the ‘Nova lineup, but that's not to say he can be ignored on the offensive end, as he is certainly good enough to hit open shots. If he has a big game, the Wildcats will be very tough to beat.
Dwayne Anderson (So., 6-5, 215 lbs.) is the first guard off the bench, and is another solid contributor in several areas. He averages 6.6 points per game, is deadly from the foul line, and has 11 steals while tallying just 13.8 minutes per contest. Bilal Benn (So., 6-5 205 lbs.) provides backup time at either the guard or forward spot, and that versatility gives him the chance to get more time on the court. Although he averages just 2.9 points per game, he is the solid eighth man in the Wildcats' rotation. Center Casiem Drummond (Fr., 6-10, 280 lbs.) and guard Reggie Redding (Fr., 6-5, 205 lbs.) round out the ‘Cats ten-man rotation, with each seeing spot duty depending on matchup and situation.
Those who believe that WVU's win over UConn means the Mountaineers will cruise through the Big East are, in head coach John's Beilein's terms, collecting fool's gold.
|Wed Jan 3|
WVU 11-1, 1-0
VU 10-2, 0-0
|Sirius Channel: 121|
WVU - 69
VU - 13
That doesn't mean, of course, that West Virginia doesn't have a chance to win the game. The Mountaineers showed great poise in the face of pressure defense against UConn, and if they can continue to exhibit that trait in league play, WVU will continue its streak of finishing higher than its predicted position in league play. Against the Wildcats, WVU will have to continue to force turnovers and disrupt the visitors' half court play, because Villanova will convert more scoring chances than UConn did if it penetrates the 1-3-1 zone.
West Virginia also can't resort to its fouling strategy if Nova gets the ball in the lane, as the Cats are an excellent free throw shooting squad. Coach Jay Wright's squad hits 78.1% of its chances from the line, so West Virginia can't cover defensive mistakes by putting shooters on the foul line. That's not a stat built on the shoulders of one or two players, either. Seven Wildcats are making more than 80% of their attempts this year.
With the challenge of facing a very efficient offensive team, West Virginia may have to resort to an ever-changing mix of defensive looks to keep Villanova's offense off-balance, and will likely have to execute as well in its man-to-man defense as it has all year in order to get its second conference win.
Each team's response to pressure could be the deciding factor in the game. WVU, of course, exerts mental as well as physical strain with its morphing 1-3-1 look, while Villanova will counter with a lineup that features seven of its top nine players standing 6-5 or taller. With that length, Villanova has forced 220 turnovers to date -- an average of 18.3 per game. West Virginia gives it up just 10.6 times per contest.
WVU is even better defensively, forcing 250 turnovers per game. Villanova had been susceptible to turnovers early in the season, but has committed just 24 in its last three games.
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Due to the oddities of Big East scheduling, this is just the Wildcats' second visit to the Coliseum since the year 2000, and just the second in the last eight meetings between the two schools. League officials typically pair Villanova against traditional Big East foes, which limits WVU's matchups against the ‘Cats to one per year. As a result of that, only three members of the current Villanova roster have ever played a game at the WVU Coliseum. They are, as might be expected, veterans Curtis Sumpter, Will Sheridan and Mike Nardi. West Virginia defeated the Wildcats 67-60 in Villnova's last visit to the Coliseum on Feb. 14, 2004.
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West Virginia is getting its money's worth, and much more, from head coach John Beilein. The Mountaineer mentor has already played 37 nationally ranked teams in 140 games at WVU -- an average of nearly 27 percent of his games. Beilein is 16-21 against those teams, seventeen of which were ranked in the Top 10.
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assists to turnovers (54/27). Deep shooting has been one of Nardi's trademarks and he has been very effective in 2006-07, converting 32-of-73 (.455) from long range. In his four seasons on the Main Line he is a career .388 shooter from deep. In addition, Nadi is connecting on .455 of his overall field goal attempts after entering the season as a lifetime .389 shooter.