After winning the MEAC regular season championship, Delaware State sailed to the finals of the league tournament, only to be upended in the last second by a Florida A&M lob pass to the rim. Will that loss have them in a downtrodden demeanor after seeing an expected trip to the NCAAs float away, or will it have them fighting to show they belong with the big dogs?
The answer to that question could be largely determined in the backcourt, where the pair of Darrin Shine and Jahsha Bluntt run the show. Shine (Sr., 5-10, 170 lbs.) is the playmaker, sporting a better than 2-1 assist to turnover ratio and finishing with a league leading 4.4 assists per game. He also tosses in 7.9 points per contest, but is certainly a pass first player in the Hornets' attack. Bluntt (Sr., 6-5, 220 lbs.) is the two-time MEAC player of the year, and the first offensive threat for DSU. He averaged 15.9 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game.
The Hornets also sport the MEAC defensive player of the year in the form of forward Aaron Fleetwood (Sr., 6-9, 215 lbs.) Fleetwood's wiry frame allowed him to block 1.8 shots per game, and he also averaged 6.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Fellow frontcourt mate Roy Bright (Jr., 6-6, 225 lbs.) was the most well-rounded player on the floor, averaging 15.9 points per outing and leading DSU with 4.9 rebounds per game. Troy Roundtree (Jr., 6-4, 225 lbs.) rounds out the starting lineup, and chips in with 5.9 points and 4.1 boards per contest.
Off the bench, swingman Joe Dickens and forward Elyon Bush provide most of the punch. Dickens (Sr., 6-7, 195 lbs.) averages 5.5 points in just 17 minutes of action, while Bush (Jr., 6-7, 175 lbs.) chips in with 3.5 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.
When the letters N-I-T are heard in conjunction with postseason play, the matter of motivation has to be put under the microscope.
|Tue Mar 13
WVU 22-9, 9-7
DS 21-12, 16-2
|Sirius Channel: None|
WVU - 57
DS - 120
The answer, at least in foresight, seems to be yes. Seniors, realizing that their careers are now one game away from ending, often put on good shows in the NIT, so Frank Young and Rob Summers will certainly be giving it their all. The mid-class players, like juniors Darris Nichols and Jamie Smalligan, have already expressed their desire to get a few more games for the outgoing senior pair. And the youngsters, having gone through at least one year of the Beilein system, understand that enjoying the game and playing hard are integral parts of their head coach's philosophy, and that failing to do so will result in a seat on the bench.
It's not just that threat, however, that leads one to believe the Mountaineers will treat this game, and the NIT, seriously. This team is made of players that love to play the game, and there hasn't been a hint of this team, or really, any John Beilein team, of ever throwing in the towel. Even in games with lopsided scores against them, West Virginia squads of the Beilein era continue to play and compete at the maximum level of ability. There's no reason think the 2006-07 team will do any less.
Delaware State, of course, is no Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Hornets rely on intense play and aggressive defense to create chaos in the half court, and are certainly capable of springing the upset if West Virginia is simply going through the motions. However, unless the Hornets can clean up their ball handling, they figure to have a tough time with WVU's 1-3-1 zone.
In addition to more traditional sports, Delaware State also sports a bowling and an equestrian team.
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Should WVU make a run in the NIT, Frank Young and John Beilein could each add additional stamps to the West Virginia record book. Young is eight three-pointers away from tying Chris Leonard's single season record of 101 threes, set in 1992. Leonard set the record in 32 games. The Delaware State game will be Young's 32 contest of the season.
With his next win, Beilein will join Gale Catlett, Francis Stadsvold, Fred Schaus and George King in the 100-win club at West Virginia. He could catch King, who has 102 wins, should the Mountaineers sweep its three possible home games in the tournament.
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Delaware State's statistics on its website have not been updated since the end of February, despite a tag noting that the numbers include games through March 7th.
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In his last three coaching stops, Beilein has stayed for five seasons. Hopefully that pattern will be broken, and the Mountaineer mentor will return for a sixth year at WVU.
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This season marks the first time that Delaware State has posted back-to-back 20-win seasons.