Since snaring a 64-61 win over West Virginia that the Mountaineers felt like they gave away, the Friars dropped two of their last three contests to all but drop them out of contention for an NCAA at-large bid. Only a run to the finals of the Big East tournament would likely give them enough juice to garner an invite.
Step one in that process would involve a second win over WVU, and they have the offensive firepower to do so. Center Herbert Hill, who averages 17.6 points and 8.7 points per game, is a threat any time he touches the ball in the lane, and his presence allows perimeter players such as Sharuad Curry (16.2 ppg) and Weyinmi Efejuku (13.8) good scoring chances. When they make their shots, PC becomes a tough opponent, as teams such as Boston College, Marquette and Connecticut can attest. Were it not for two close losses to Pitt and Notre Dame, not to mention the regular season-ender against St. John's, it could well be the Friars and not the Mountaineers looking for one additional win to get them into the NCAAs.
While the Friars will likely have to win at least three games to have any sort of chance to make the NCAAs, there's no doubt that visions of Syracuse, last year's tournament Cinderella, dance in the heads of every team on the outside looking in. Although the Friars will certainly garner an NIT bid, they won't be mailing in their effort against West Virginia. WVU will have to again find a way to shut down Hill while minimizing Providences open chances from the perimeter.
Providence has one big advantage over West Virginia going into this game.
|Wed Mar 7
Madison Square Garden
WVU 21-8, 9-7
PC 18-11, 8-8
|XM Channel: 200|
WVU - 56
PC - 65
It will also be interesting to see if the Friars stick to the extended 2-3 zone it used against West Virginia in its last meeting. Conventional wisdom says that Providence will stick to what worked the first time, but that's not a foregone conclusion. For example, Cincinnati, which pressed and harassed WVU in its overtime victory in the teams' first meeting, didn't extend its defense past half court until seven minutes remained in the contest. Additionally, it didn't spring the halfcourt traps that bothered the Mountaineers until the game was almost totally out of reach.
Since Providence's Tim Welsh is about ten times the game coach that Cincinnati's Mick Cronin is, it's probably a safe bet to wager that WVU will see the 2-3 again. Don't be surprised to see some traps in the half court, as well as more aggressive on the ball pressure if the Friars get on a run. This contest could wind up being a game of spurts, as both teams are streaky shooting clubs, and when one team or the other hits a hot streak, they can be expected to do everything they can to extend it as long as possible.
West Virginia's veterans will have to be productive as well as steadying influences for the players who are making their first real appearances in the Garden. It's one thing to sit on the bench and watch the action, and quite another to score, rebound and defend under the lights. In particular, Darris Nichols must run the offense with efficiency, be as aggressive looking for shots as he is steady in running the offense, and make sure that his teammates get into the flow of the game early. By doing so, WVU can hope to avoid the long scoreless streaks that have haunted them in several games this year – and take that elusive last step toward the NCAAs.
WVU: Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out
PC: Charles Burch (Unknown) Questionable
A great trivia question came up on our drive to New York City. Which Mountaineer holds the WVU scoring record in a Big East tournament game? Answer below.
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In its 2005 run to the Big East finals, WVU obliterated the team three-point field goal record. The mark going in was 23, held by Boston College, but the Mountaineers nearly doubled it as they drained 44 treys during the magical four-day run.
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It shouldn't be any surprise that the Mountaineers and Friars are again facing off in the Big East tournament. This is the third time in the past five years that WVU and Providence have met right off the bat in New York. The teams split the first two meetings, with the Friars taking the 2003 meeting by a score of 73-50. The Mountaineers returned the favor with an 82-59 win in 2005.
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Providence forward Geoff McDermott became the first non-guard to lead the Big East in assists. He averaged 5.4 dishes per game.
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Answer: Elton Scott scored 26 points against Villanova on March 3, 1999.