Forward Lamont Hamilton and guard Avery Patterson are averaging more than 13 points per game and, unlike in past seasons, St. John's seems willing and able to distribute the basketball. It still has more turnovers than assists (204 to 200), but SJU offers six scorers that average at least four points. Three others contribute at least three points, and there are eight players that average more than 10 minutes per game. Part of that might be the early season shuffling of third-year head coach Norm Roberts, but the lineup appears set.
With two guard Eugene Lawrence as a calming influence – his 77 to 51 turnovers to assists is by far the team's best – and the ability to run the floor with uber-athletic point guard Daryll Hill, the Red Storm has the talent to create an up-and-down playground game, something WVU must avoid. Hill has fully recovered from off-season knee surgery, and has begun to show flashes of his team-leading scorer abilities as a freshman and sophomore. He is also among the better man defenders in the league, and could test WVU counterpart Darris Nichols.
In the last three series games (it is tied at 15-15 overall), none have been decided by more than five points. West Virginia won one, in 2005 at St. John's in Jamaica, N.Y., on a last second lay-in off a coast-to-coast drive by former point guard J.D. Collins. Each time, it has been a match of the running game versus the outside shooting – something that has been very solid for West Virginia this season at a 38.2 percent (145 of 380).
"It is a game that is very important," Beilein said. "We understand every game is important. St. John's is an excellent basketball team. They have everybody back that they had the last three times we beat them in last-second games. We only have two players who played in any of those games."
The pessimism? First, WVU has not seen a team with the pure ability of the Johnnies that can play as quickly at both ends of the floor. Second, the wave of players it can throw at a Mountaineer team lacking such depth could be major if the play gets into the Red Storm's rough-and-tumble liking, even if the officials call the game loosely. If that happens, it could be a repeat of the UConn contest, where a handful of jersey is a standard part of manning up a foe. And third, and perhaps most surprisingly, SJU is shooting well, something its past teams have not done from long range. St. John's has hit 96 of 268 shots from three-point range, a 35.8 percent average. Freshman guard Larry Wright is especially effective off the bench, canning 13 of 28, and Patterson will pull the trigger, and has, shockingly, more than any Mountaineer. He is the main threat, though, and the rest of the team comes nowhere near the balanced outside shots that WVU distributes via its offense.
Beilein did indicate that his team needed a challenge, and to see a whole other level of play. The team concept isn't as prevalent as it was in the last game, but SJU certainly does have the Big East-caliber players that even North Carolina State lacked with its severe depth problems. West Virginia needs to finish the home stand in solid style, and not let past victories affect current play.
"You have a huge opportunity to make a basic play against other teams. Now, there is a small window of opportunity to make that same play," Beilein said. "It is tremendously important. They say we have gotten to a level. Well, we certainly are not the best 12-1 team. We have a whole other level to go to to get there. But this is another chance to advance on that."
Note: Beilein, on the recent shooting of forward Frank Young, who hit a school-record tying eight three-pointers against Villanova, including four in the first 10 minutes of the WVU win: "He is getting a lot more shots now and that lets you find a rhythm. He certainly has a green light to shoot for us. If you make 35, 40 percent of your shots, you are shooting well. You are more apt to make four of ten than two of five. You need more repetitions. He is getting those, and he has a green light to let it ride."