Preview: West Virginia - St. John's

Every Big East game can become a war, no matter what the records or prospects of the teams involved. West Virginia hopes to avoid a pitched battle when the Red Storm of St. John's visits.

SCOUTING THE RED STORM

After facing a steady diet of three-guard lineups, West Virginia will get a bigger look from St. John's on Thursday evening. The Mountaineers will see a lineup with four players standing 6-6 or taller – length that could give them trouble on the defensive end and on the backboards.

The lone senior on the team is the ball handler and table setter for the Johnnies – not a bad place to have experience. Eugene Lawrence (6-1, 210 lbs.) sets the pace for the Red Storm, but can't be ignored as an offensive threat either. Lawrence averages 9.7 points and 4.3 assists per game, and is the key in keeping his younger teammates calm in the face of adversity. He also leads the squad in steals with 30.

A pair of freshmen in the starting lineup, D.J. Kennedy and Justin Burrell, comprises two of those players. Kennedy (6-6, 205 lbs.) averages 9.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Burrell tops those marks with 12.8 points and 7.7 boards per outing. Burrell (6-8, 235 lbs.) is a strongly built inside player who makes the most of his chances in close, and gets to the free throw line with consistency. He has not missed a foul shot (15-15) in four Big East games and is 42-51 on the season.

More experience on the front line is provided by Anthony Mason (Jr., 6-7, 210 lbs.) and Romas Jasiulionis (Jr., 6-11, 250 lbs.). Mason, who missed five of SJU's first six games with an injury, has helped to provide the Johnnies with a balanced scoring attack, as he tosses in 11.9 points per game. Jasiulionis has not been overly productive at the center position, tallying just 3.0 points and 2.5 points per contest.

Guard Larry Wright provides great scoring punch off the bench, and does much of his damage from long range. He has started ten of St. John's 15 games this season, and averages ten points per outing while talking two-thirds of his shots from behind the arc. Off the bench, Wright (So., 6-2, 270 lbs.) gives the Red Storm a more traditional offensive look, but is often able to find some open shots early in his appearances while defenders adjust to his presence.

Swingman Paris Horne (Fr., 6-3, 180 lbs.) and point Malik Boothe (Fr., 5-9, 185 lbs.) both get more minutes than Jasiulionis, and are solid contributors as well. Horne averages 5.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per appearance, while Boothe has a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while providing backup playmaking duties.

OUTLOOK

When comparing teams and trying to come up with an opinion on how the game will go, records and relative talents are usually two of the first indicators that are employed.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Thu Jan 17
7:00 p.m.

WVU Coliseum
Records
WVU 12-4, 2-2
SJ 7-8, 1-3
Series
WVU 16-15
TV
ESPN+
Sirius Channel: 125
RPI
WVU - 29
SJ - 145
However, for West Virginia's team this year, those factors get bumped down the list somewhat. While they are still important, it's the style, and to a lesser degree, the size, of WVU's opponent that heads the analysis.

If West Virginia is playing a perimeter-oriented team, like Marquette or Villanova, it has a good chance to win the game – maybe even a great chance. But if the Mountaineers are facing a team with two players that can get on the boards and score inside, then they don't match up as well. Where does St. John's fit into this scale?

From a talent and record aspect, WVU looks to be superior. West Virginia has played and defeated tougher teams than the Johnnies, and figure to be able to stop whatever outside shooting the Red Storm hopes to muster. However, that doesn't mean it will be all smooth sailing for the Mountaineers on Thursday evening. With its overall height and ability to get into the lane to score, St. John's could give West Virginia's man-to-man defense some problems. Post up advantages figure to accrue to the Red Storm's end of the court, and with West Virginia's zone defenses still a work in progress, the visitors could give the Mountaineers some problems on that end of the floor.

That's not to say that West Virginia should be an underdog here, or that the Mountaineers are in trouble in this contest. It's simply to indicate that those expecting a walkover might be in for a bit of a surprise. Watch for St. John's to attack WVU inside and try to get the Mountaineers into

West Virginia will need to play its man-to-man defense with good body position and strong fundamentals in the early going to help keep the Red Storm out of the lane and away from the basket. If WVU achieves that goal, it should be in good shape to gain its 13th win of the season.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Will Play

SJ: None reported

FAST BREAKS

St. John's University Athletics celebrates the 100th year of its men's basketball program with a series of centennial-themed initiatives during the 2007-08 season. St. John's entered the 2007-08 season as the seventh all-time winningest program in the NCAA Division I record book with 1,659 wins and 831 losses. The school's .666 winning percentage ranks ninth all-time in NCAA history, while St. John's 26 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances ties for 13th.

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Several articles in various media outlets this week have highlighted WVU's home-road dichotomy. There are numerous explanations and theories advanced for playing better at home, but whatever the causes, it's easy to see that West Virginia is a different team under the big mushroom. WVU is shooting 51.0 percent in the Coliseum this year while averaging 88.1 points per game.

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St. John's head coach Norm Roberts is in his fourth season at St. John's, but owns just five road victories in that span. For some reason, St. John's trumpets this fact in its game notes.

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While some thought that West Virginia would lose, or at least de-emphasize, the "valuation of the basketball" under Bob Huggins, the numbers don't bear that out. Seldom used freshman guard Will Thomas is the only member of the team with more turnovers than assists, and WVU holds a 274-185 assist to turnover ratio as a team.


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