Preview: West Virginia - Canisius

The Golden Griffins lost three starters and seven lettermen from last year's 12-19, and the resulting rebuilding process has been a painful one, as head coach Tom Parrotta has shuffled his starting lineup extensively to try and find the right combination on the court. With 12 of 14 available players classified as freshmen and sophomores, it hasn't been easy.

SCOUTING THE GOLDEN GRIFFINS

Canisius has managed just one win this year, an 88-62 victory over Coastal Carolina, after dropping seven consecutive games to start the season. That doesn't bode well for the Griffins against the high-scoring West Virginia offense.

The Griffins, like many of WVU's out of conference opponents, feature a three-guard offense. Sophomore Frank Turner leads the group with 11.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, while also finding time to dish out 5.8 assists per contest. Turner (5-10, 165 lbs.) has played almost 39 minutes in each of his team's last two games. Sophomore Jovan Robinson (6-4, 175 lbs.) supports the scoring effort with 9.5 points per contest, and is the team's best three point shooter, making 51% of his tries. Freshman Julius Coles (6-4, 180 lbs.) has moved into the starting lineup recently, and is averaging 4.8 points per game on the season, although his productivity has been much higher of late.

The youth parade continues up front with a pair of freshmen. Tomas Vazquez-Simmons (6-7, 190 lbs.) is a slender, but active player, especially on the defensive end. He averages 5.1 points and 3.0 blocks per game, and has also seen his minute increase after moving into the starting lineup in game four. Fellow freshman Greg Logins is yet another mid-season addition to the starting lineup, and has responded with respectable play inside, averaging 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest.

Junior Willie Hassell (5-8, 185 lbs.), who has started five games this year, provides support in the backcourt. He averages 8.4 points per game, but his making just 35.9% of his shots. Freshman Elton Frazier, who started seven of the Griffs' first ten games, was even more woeful, hitting just 28.6% of his field goal attempts while suffering twice as many turnovers as assists. The 6-5, 200-pounder does help on the boards, snaring 5.0 per outing. Senior Pawel Malesa (6-4, 225 lbs.) has been very steady off the bench, chipping in with 7.6 points in just 13 minutes of action.

OUTLOOK

Unless West Virginia shoots 60% and holds the Griffins to about 35% shooting from the floor, there probably won't be many backflips from head coach Bob Huggins after this game.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat Dec 22
4:00 p.m.

HSBC Arena
Records
WVU 9-1, 0-0
CC 1-9, 0-2
Series
WVU 6-1
TV
ESPN Plus
Sirius Channel: 123
RPI
WVU - 35
CC - 322
Fortunately this is the last game of this sort this year, so Huggins won't have to grit his teeth as he takes on yet another foe that is near the bottom of NCAA Division I. One, or at most two, games like this is the max that Huggins wants, as he believes in testing his teams against stiffer competition in the early going. That philosophy also helps WVU's RPI rating, something that he keeps a close eye on. West Virginia dropped 15 spots in the RPI after defeating Radford, and this game, no matter the outcome, will result in another drop-off. There's plenty of tough competition to come that will help boost that rating -- assuming West Virginia wins enough of them.

WVU will be looking more to correct its own faults in this game. Both coach and players have been upset with the defensive play over the last three games, and there is no doubt that extra work was put in during the two days since the Radford game. Keep an eye on WVU's intensity, especially at the start of this contest. It was distinctly lacking in the Radford game, and will be a point of emphasis as Huggins tries to prepare the troops for the looming Big East season.

With such a callow starting lineup, Canisius could be vulnerable to West Virginia's defensive pressure. They will likely fire away from three-point range, and could get caught in the trap of taking the first available shot against what figures to be a Mountaineer team out to regain its defensive swagger.

From an individual standpoint, keep an eye on sophomore point guard Joe Mazzulla. The fiery competitor had just one turnover against Radford, and has made much better decisions with the ball over his last two outings. While Huggins certainly doesn't want Mazzulla to be less aggressive or curtail his drives to the hoop, he has been pushing him to make better decisions and recognize when to drive, pass or shoot the rock. We may have seen Mazzulla turn the corner over the last week, so it will be interesting to see if he continues his improvement. With his style of play, Mazzulla is going to commit a turnover here and there – the key is for him to offset that with points and assists off his headlong forays into the lane.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: None

CC: None

FAST BREAKS

With a win, Bob Huggins will become the 29th Division I head coach to win 600 games. (That figure includes coaches with at least ten years of Division I experience.) Huggins is currently tied with the immortal Slats Gill at 599 wins. Bonus points if you can identify the team Gill coached. Answer at the end of this preview.

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Former Mountaineer head coach John Beilein led the Golden Griffins to three consecutive postseason appearances from 1993-95. The stretch, Canisius' best other than three years from 1955-57, included two trips to the NIT followed by an NCAA appearance.

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The non-home court site for this game (Canisius plays almost all of its home games in the on-campus Koessler Athletic Center) continues an odd venue schedule for West Virginia. To date, the Mountaineers have played only one team on its home court (Radford) but have played three other games away from home (Tennessee, New Mexico and Auburn). Not only this game, but also the next contest, against Oklahoma at the Charleston Civic Center, will add to that total. By years end, WVU will have played six home games, one road game, and five neutral site contests.

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Canisius' location makes it a prime out of conference foes for Big East teams. The Golden Griffins are a combined 74-148 all-time against schools that are current members of the Big East. This is the eighth-straight season the Griffs have played a Big East school, and the results lately have not been good. They have lost 13 straight games to Big East squads, with the last win coming all the way back on March 15, 1995, when they defeated Seton Hall. The coach at the time, of course, was Beilein.

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West Virginia is making its first trip to Buffalo since Jan. 10, 1959, when the Mountaineers, led by junior guard Jerry West, defeated Canisius 77-66.

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Amory Tingle "Slats" Gill, a Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee, coached at Oregon State from 1928-64.


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