Preview: West Virginia - Rutgers

West Virginia looks for its first Big East road win in an inside-outside matchup, the first in a two-game New Jersey road swing.

SCOUTING THE SCARLET KNIGHTS

Rutgers plays a ball-screen, set-shot style that also attacks the rim, similar to Villanova, according to West Virginia head coach John Beilein. Unfortunately for the Knights, that approach has amassed an average of just 59 points per game this season. Senior forward Adrian Hill (Sr., 6-8, 245 lbs.) had a career-high 18 points and an incredible 19 rebounds – the most by any Rutgers player since 1989 – in RU's win over Seton Hall that earned him Big East Player of the Week honors. That has been the lone bright spot over a five-losses-in-six-games skid that has seen Rutgers lose every game by at least 10 points and two by 20-plus.

The majority of the problem is that Rutgers has made just 38.5% of its shots from the field and 10 percent less than that from three-point range, while foes are finding open looks and managing a solid 44.4% from the field and 37.3 from long range. In the Big East, the stats are even worse for Rutgers, which is hitting just 24.1% from the outside and made no better than 31.5% in any of the Big East home games outside of Seton Hall. That's unusually poor for a team that has defended its home floor very well in past years with an inside game that has been dominant, fueling a merely adequate outside base.

RU has been outscored by more than 100 points already this season. Another problem is turnovers. The Knights average 13 per game, and their screening style hasn't maximized team play, as they have just 8.8 assists per game, compared to opponents' 14. All other stats are very similar, but that numbers cushion was built during non-Big East play, when Rutgers, after losing five of its first six, rebounded to win five in a row before getting into the grit of the league slate.

In Big East play, the similar-sized lineup has proven ineffective. Marquis Webb, a 6-5, 205-pounder, is the line senior starter besides Hill. He has averaged 10.2 points per game – Hill averages 8.6 points and 6.4 rebounds – from the shooting guard spot. He is RU's most accurate outside threat with 32 threes on 98 attempts. But he has 42 turnovers compared to 24 assists. Point guard Anthony Farmer (So., 6-1, 190 lbs.) has a nearly one-to-one assost tp turnover ratio in 33 minutes per game. He is not a shooter, but can slash to the rim and get inside and kick the ball out. The forwards, J.R. Inman (So., 6-9, 220 lbs.) and Jaron Griffith (So., 6-7, 210 lbs.) are both simialrly sized with the same game. They play a driving style, but are extremely turnover-plagued, something that could help a patient WVU defense.

The idea with that style of lineup will be to force Rutgers to beat West Virginia from the outside, where it simply cannot. Perhaps no other lineup in the conference is so futile in starting shooting and turnovers. But the Mountaineers cannot get into either a running game or allow the Knights to gain putback chances inside with their base athletic ability. The eight-man rotation offers just one other player – Courtney Nelson (So., 6-1, 180 lbs.) – who has even taken an outside shot. Under first-year head coach and former Rutgers assistant Fred Hill, if WVU can avoid the running style, it seems there is very little chance the Knights can out-execute it in the half-court sets.

OUTLOOK

West Virginia comes off two consecutive wins looking for its biggest this season. That might read a bit over the top, as the Mountaineers have already beaten Connecticut when it was ranked ninth, and upended four Big East teams picked in front of it in the postseason.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Wed Jan 31
7:00 p.m.

Rutgers Athletic Center
Records
WVU 15-4, 5-3
RU 9-12, 2-6
Series
WVU 39-26
TV
ESPN Plus
Sirius Channel: 130
RPI
WVU - 49
RU - 185
But WVU remains winless away from home against major conference foes and is 0-3 in the Big East. Rutgers seems ripe for the beating. It is not executing well, as a youthful lineup with a first year head coach and turns the ball over while lacking an outside threat to pull defenders away from its inside game. The Knights have beaten Cincinnati, however, a team that upset West Virginia.

The horrid overall start and its bleeding over into the conference schedule has been a surprise for Rutgers, especially as it has lost at the Rutgers Athletic Center. The RAC has been an arena in which the Mountaineers have struggled in recent seasons. The road problems took a hit last season, when the teams did not play. A win is key here, as West Virginia must continue its New Jersey swing with a contest at Seton Hall before returning home to face top 10 teams in Pitt and UCLA. Travel problems put the Mountaineers in the Garden State later than expected (the team did not take off until 6:15 EST Tuesday). That should not factor in, but what will is the team's shoot-around, when it can try to find its road touch.

Defensively, the Mountaineers might be tempted to pack in the 1-3-1 zone, or try on of its other zones it has utilized in recent games (2-3, among others) because of RU's shooting. But Beilein often doesn't bend to what other teams or coaches want to do. More man might prove effective. This is a contest that WVU needs, both to get the proverbial road monkey off its back and so it doesn't carry it over into the game at Seton Hall, when pressure might build for WVU to win a league game away from home. At 16-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big East, five more wins in the final nine games should certainly seal an NCAA bid. But if that seemingly magic number is to be reached, this appears like a must-win, though no games are truly of that nature of yet.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Mazzulla, doubtful (deep thigh bruise).

Rutgers: None

FAST BREAKS

This is the 66th meeting between Rutgers and West Virginia; WVU leads 39-26. The teams had played each season since 1972-73 before last year. Both are former members of the Eastern 8 and Atlantic 10. WVU is 11-7 in series Big East play. The Mountaineers last lost at the RAC in the third-round game of the 2004 NIT. Overall, West Virginia is 12-16 at Rutgers and 7-9 at the RAC. Webb claimed 39th place in Rutgers history in scoring against Seton Hall. Farmer tied a career-high with 17 points in the rivalry contest.

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Rutgers ackup Hamady N'diaye ranks eighth in the Big East in blocks and is one away from the 25th-best single-season mark. Three other Rutgers players are former walk-ons.

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Of the dozen Rutgers players, eight are from New Jersey. Guard Courtney Nelson played with WVU sixth-man Da'Sean Butler at Bloomfield Tech. Nelson inked with Richmond, then transferred to Rutgers.


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