Preview: West Virginia - Providence

No. 18 West Virginia travels to Providence looking for its first Big East road win over a school with a winning record.

SCOUTING THE FRIARS

This version of a Tim Welsh-led team is built with the same forward-based play that has dominated Providence (16-9, 6-6 Big East) basketball in the last six years. Forward Geoff McDermott (6-7, 240 lbs., Soph.) is arguably the finest second-year swingman West Virginia (20-6, 8-5) will have faced this season. The New Rochelle, N.Y. native averages 10.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He averaged nearly a triple-double over three nonconference games in the middle of December – and did record the first by a PC player since Dec. 27, 1999 when he registered 12 points, 11 boards and a career-high 10 assists in a Dec. 22 win over Harvard – and since the start of league play, he has ranked third in conference rebounding and has averaged 5.5 assists, a solid number for a three-man. This will be a mismatch inside, as McDermott bodies up well and plays as punishing a style as any league player. He can also handle the ball and passes very effectively as evidenced by 10 assists against a stifling, quick Marquette defense. He has never scored any more than 19 points in a Big East game, however, and is not a threat to string together hot shooting stretches. McDermott has hit 17 of 45 threes, but the vast majority of his points came in the paint, often on putbacks. If the Mountaineers allow him to hit the boards, the John Beilein adage of death by offensive rebounding will hold.

Fellow forward Jonathan Kale (6-8, 250 lbs. Soph.) is solely an inside player. He has yet to take a trey this season and with six assists against 29 turnovers, will not handle the ball. That's fortunate, because Kale, with a 90.7 percent conversion rate from the foul line (46 of 57), would be the last PC player to foul in a key situation. He moved into the starting lineup just as conference play started and is still polishing his game and averages seven points and four rebounds. Center Herbert Hill (6-10, 240 lbs., Sr.) is a typical Big East big man. He shots poorly from the foul line (59.1 percent) but is brilliant from the floor, converting 180 of 293 shots (63.6 percent) while cleaning up the shooting of guards Sharaud Curry (5-10, 165 lbs., Soph.) and Weyinmi Efejuku (6-5, 205 lbs., Soph.). Through 12 league games, Hill is averaging 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. In PC's last outing, he registered 16 points and 11 rebounds in a win over St. John's. It was his 10th double-double of the season.

The guard tandem, as noted, has hit less than 34 percent from 3-point range in conference play and, while the finish at the line, they do not attack the rim especially well. They are a steady pair who are continuing to grow within Welsh's inside-out style. Curry has a team-best 102 assists to 72 turnovers, while Efejuku, who led Brewster Academy in New York to a top 10 national ranking, is the outside threat, dropping 38 of 98 threes. His height and reach will hurt WVU's offense, and he has the quickness to stay with Alex Ruoff.

After the first fiver, Welsh has no experience. The main reserves are all first-year players, with backup guards Dwain Williams (6-0, 170 lbs., Fr.) and Brian McKenzie (6-4, 190 lbs., Fr.) combining for 10 points in 31 minutes. McKenzie's minutes have increased as Providence began conference play, a natural result of maturity and the lack of a bench otherwise. He is still settling into the scheme, and while he won't hurt the Friars, he's not going to torch other teams, either. Williams, who has started four games, has hit 43.5 percent of his 3-pointers (27 of 62), by far the most accurate on the team. He is also one of just three players with an assist-to-turnover ratio on the plus side.

Backup center Ray Hall (6-11, 275 lbs., Fr.) plays 11 minutes per game and is a base putback/inside threat. He won't come out to the perimeter, and so Jamie Smalligan could be able to take advantage of his heft. There are only two backup forwards on the roster, and both combine to average 3.3 minutes in 10 appearances between the two. In short: Providence has no reserve forwards, one reason McDermott plays 35.7 minutes on average. Kale sees just 21, and when Welsh removes him, the Friars go to a three-guard, one forward, one center look and try to run.

OUTLOOK

Providence is an excellent rebounding team that seems to be hitting its proverbial stride late this season.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Tue Feb 20
7:30 p.m.

Dunkin' Donuts Center
Records
WVU 20-6, 8-5
PC 16-9, 6-6
Series
PC 10-9
TV
ESPN Plus
Sirius Channel: 161
RPI
WVU - 48
PC - 67
It has won four of its last seven and played No. 6 Pitt, at the Petersen Events Center, into the final three minutes in between losses at Marquette and Notre Dame by a combined 10 points. The Friars among the best scoring balance in the Big East with four or more players in double figures in 17 of 25 games. There were four games in which five players scored 10-plus, and in two games the Friars had a whopping six players reach double digits.

Yet it lacks any depth at forward and doesn't have quality ball handlers. It has turned the ball over 428 times while forcing just 368. That gap grows into a 212-160 differential in Big East play, where a skill and experience gap have showed. Its big man doesn't guard the perimeter well, either, but with Smalligan replacing Kevin Pittsnogle in the WVU lineup, the Mountaineers won't likely be able to exploit that area as well as it has in the past three years. West Virginia must be aware of McDermott, but not focus its entire defensive attack around him. Offensive rebounds and easy putbacks will play a major factor, and so limiting Providence to a one-and-done set as often as possible is key.

If the Mountaineers can shoot well and force PC to play catch-up, perhaps temping a few more outside shots that have lesser chance and longer rebounds with misses, it will have a major edge. If it trails early, however, the match-ups are not favorable with a team that can go inside and hits free throws at a 70 percent rate, a number that increases when only the starters are considered. This is another punishing team, albeit one that lacks the skills and depth of Pitt and Georgetown. With the game on the road, a fast start and some early success from behind the arc will certainly help. Without it, the game could evolve into another catch-up affair, and that leaves the Mountaineers vulnerable to their weakest link – interior defense and defensive rebounding. Look for West Virginia to maximize possessions and play close to the vest early on offense, while trying a variety of defensive approaches to handle PC's inside game.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out

PC: None

FAST BREAKS

WVU made its first appearance in the rankings on Jan. 1 and returned to the poll last week. It is West Virginia's fourth appearance in the polls this season. The Big East has five teams in this week's AP poll: No. 10 Pitt, No. 12 Georgetown, No. 16 Marquette, No. 20 Louisville and No. 22 West Virginia. The ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll also has five Big East teams: No. 8 Pitt, No. 12 Georgetown, No. 16 Marquette, No. 18 West Virginia and No. 23 Notre Dame.

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Providence is 2-3 against ranked team this season and 15-2 at home overall. It beat then-No. 15 Marquette 74-59 on Jan. 4 after losing earlier to a ranked Golden Eagle squad. It's other win came over then-No. 23 Boston College; PC has also lost at Pitt and versus then-No. 7 Florida in December.

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Providence's sophomore class of Curry, McDemott, Efejuku and Kale are four of the team's top six scorers. They have accounted for 1,147 of the team's 1,928 points this season (59.5 percent).

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Providence lists player interests and facts about each team member in its media release. Among the notes: Williams' mother, Sharyn, competed in track and field at Cal State-Bakersfield. McDermott led his high school team in sacks and had several major Division I offers – as a quarterback. He led New Rochelle High to a state title in 2003.

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In the spring of 2006, renovations began on the Dunkin' Donuts Center that are due to be completed in 2008. The $62 million project will include luxury boxes, new seats, a new video scoreboard, a new sound system, new concessions stands, new lockerrooms, and a new weight training and fitness area. As part of that, the NCAA announced that it will serve as one of the sites for the First and Second Rounds of the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. It will mark the first time the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament has been held there.

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Providence, which has an enrollmentof 3,912 students, is the smallest Division I school competing in one of the six major conferences (ACC, BIG 12, BIG EAST, PAC-10, BIG 10 and the SEC). In fact, of schools that compete in those six conferences only Seton Hall (9,600), Northwestern (7,700), Vanderbilt (6,319), Villanova (6,295) and Wake Forest (4,263) have enrollments of less than 10,000.

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West Virginia has won four in a row and seven of the last nine against Providence. WVU has won 20 or more games for the third consecutive season, a first since 1985-87.


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