As the Johnnies' rebuilding has progressed, the team has relied less on one player (Daryll Hill) and more on a team-oriented concept. That move has allowed players such as Lamont Hamilton, Avery Patterson and Anthony Mason to show their skills, with a resulting increase in wins. The Red Storm's win over DePaul was a good one, but the Blue Demons' underachievement to date still leaves the question as to just how good SJU will be this year.
Hamilton, a senior who joined the career 1,000-point club against DePaul, is a strong inside force for the Red Storm. He averages 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and uses his six-foot, ten-inch, 255-pound body to great effect inside. He is not the most active of centers, and has fouled out of two games while recording 42 personals this year. That's a natural byproduct of his physical play.
Mason (So., 6-7, 205 lbs.) averages 11 points and 5.1 rebounds as a complement to Hamilton on the front line. He makes 1/3 of his three-point attempts (15-45) and thus can't be neglected when he ventures outside. He also has matched Hamilton with 26 offensive rebounds, and is a slasher who can get to the basket off the dribble. Tomas Jasiulionis (So, 6-11, 250 lbs.) gives the Johnnies another big body up front. In starting half of the Red Storm's games to date, he has averaged just 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, but will likely better those numbers against West Virginia's shorter front line.
Off the bench, forward Qa'rraan Calhoun (Fr., 6-8, 215 lbs.) gets most of the backup time on the front line. He averages 3.4 points and the same number of rebounds per game. Although not the sharpest shooter in the lineup, he provides active defense with eight blocks (third on the team). Aaron Spears (Sr., 6-10, 245 lbs.) is yet another towering presence who contributes 3.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per outing.
In the backcourt, junior college transfer Avery Patterson (Jr., 6-4, 185 lbs.) is the team's main three-point threat. He has hoisted 111 of his 151 shots from behind the three-point line, which has helped build his scoring average to 13.2 points per game. With only 13 assists on the season, Patterson is a shoot first player who must be defended anywhere on the court. Teaming with Patterson is Eugene Lawrence, who runs the offense but still chips in with 7.2 points per game. His 77 assists far and away lead the team, as do his 30 steals. He is an experienced guard who should be familiar with WVU's 1-3-1 zone.
Guard Daryll Hill has become a backup after suffering a knee injury that ended his season prematurely a year ago. He does have two starts on the season, but it looks as if he has settled into a spot on the bench. After getting off 480 shots as a sophomore and 399 a year ago, Hill (Sr., 6-0, 170 lbs.) has just 57 attempts this year, averaging just 6.8 points per outing. Larry Wright (Fr., 6-2, 160 lbs.) gets most of the remaining time in the backcourt, adding 4.4 points in just more than 11 minutes of action per game.
The Johnnies will serve up waves of big frontcourt players, which West Virginia will have to counter in one of two ways.
|Sat Jan 6|
WVU 12-1, 2-0
SJU 10-4, 1-0
|Sirius Channel: 110|
WVU - 38
SJU - 175
Of course, as we have seen many times in the past, being outrebounded doesn't mean a Mountaineer defeat is imminent. West Virginia could also counter the Red Storm big front line with a smaller, more agile group that causes SJU problems on defense and in handling the ball. Obviously, head coach John Beilein would likely prefer to deploy that option at his discretion, rather than as a response to foul trouble, but it won't be a surprise to see that look at some point in the game.
St. John's will also likely be able to match West Virginia's rotations, as the Red Storm have nine players averaging double digits in minutes. Beilein, who is always on the lookout for an advantageous matchup, will face a balanced SJU roster that could provide difficulty in that regard.
One item that does appear to favor West Virginia is the fact that the Red Storm have committed more turnovers than they have forced. St. John's is not a pressing team, which should certainly help WVU after facing two consecutive pressure-oriented defenses, and if the Mountaineers are able to control the ball and work their usual advantage in possessions, they could be on their way to an unexpected 3-0 start in the league.
One area to watch for WVU is the two guard position. Freshman Devan Bawinkel has struggled a bit with his ball handling and offensive direction in the past two games, and Beilein has twice responded by putting fellow frosh Joe Mazzulla into the game with Darris Nichols. Mazzulla could end up being the first player off the bench at both the one and the two spots, especially against teams that thrive on pressure defense, while Bawinkel could fill the role as the designated shooter against teams that pack defenses in the paint.
Getting wins on the road in the Big East is difficult, but St. John's has struggled to record any sort of road victory over the past three seasons. The Red Storm have won just three road contests since Nov. 29, 2003, when they recorded a victory at less than powerful Stony Brook. Prior to last January, SJU's most recent road win in the conference came at Miami on March 8, 2003. During those stretches, St John's lost 25 consecutive road games, including 17 conference tilts.
Under third year coach Norm Roberts, St. John's has defeated just two teams (South Florida and Rutgers) on the road. Beating West Virginia at the Coliseum would be the Johnnies' best road win in four years, and signal another major milestone in the rebuilding of the program.
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Despite playing a defense that is not conducive to rejections, West Virginia has almost doubled its opponents in blocks. The Mountaineers have swatted away 46 opponents' attempts (led by Rob Summers' 19), while having just 24 of their own returned to sender.
Of course, West Virginia's three-point oriented offense helps keep the block total down, and the Mountaineers have racked up some blocks against much shorter foes. However, WVU has continued its pace against the big boys of the Big East. WVU outblocked nation-leading UConn 4-3, and served up four Wilsonburgers against Villanova while suffering none in return.
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Last year, West Virginia took 967 of its 1875 shots from three-point range. That works out to 51.57%. This year despite the roster turnover that was believed would lead to more inside shots and fast break runouts, WVU is actually ahead of that pace. A full 51.98% of West Virginia's field goal tries (380 out of 731) to date have come from long range.
At that pace, WVU could break the school records for three-point attempts and successes. Last year's totals of 337 hits out of 967 attempts stand as the school record. Of course, WVU would need to get a couple of games in the Big East tournament and at least two in the NCAA or NIT to have a shot at the record.
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Radio broadcasts for St John's air on Radio Disney in the New York City area. We're not quite sure what to make of that.