Inside-Outside Battle

West Virginia's six-game winning streak over St. John's has been built with solid outside shooting against guard-based line-ups. Tonight, at least half that equation disappears – and Bob Huggins is hoping to keep it that way.

The Mountaineers (12-4, 2-2 Big East) are still of the skill set that they win when shooting well and likely lose when baskets fail to drop. With lone true center Jamie Smalligan playing limited minutes, the line-up is an instant mismatch for longer teams inside. With St. John's featuring four players taller than 6-5, WVU will need to shoot reasonably and continue its recent defensive and rebounding tenacity.

"I think they're really talented," Huggins said of St. John's. "They've got great size but I think they've just had some youthful mistakes that have cost them. We have to start playing with more intensity. Our defense was better (of late). We had good shot at Louisville, we jut didn't make any. We didn't play with a lot of confidence. It's great to have your fans here supporting you, but they don't score any goals. You have to play with toughness. You know people will make runs, you just have to keep playing."

The Red Storm (7-8, 1-3), under head coach Norm Roberts, have just five road wins in four seasons. This year, they are 1-3, with a win at Hawaii and losses to Miami, Syracuse and UConn. When they can pound the ball inside and expose smaller squads, success has come. That will be the game plan against West Virginia, like Marquette among the smaller teams in the Big East. Look for the Johnnies to dump passes to the low block, or, against the 2-3 zone WVU will at times deploy, to the high post for cuts down the lane. If it can get inside, and get Joe Alexander and Wellington Smith in foul trouble, it can gain road win No. 6 if it can couple that with solid field goal percentage defense.

West Virginia isn't going to dominate on the boards. That means it must make shots, and the common thread running through both teams is that when SJU limits them and WVU makes them, the programs win. The Red Storm held Hawaii to 39.7 percent shooting in the second half, including just 11.8 from 3-point range. It limited Cincinnati, in a 33.3 percent from the field and 26.7 from behind the arc in a surprising 70-58 win. At Rutgers, SJU held the Knights to 51 points, nearly 20 below their average. None of those teams consistently shoot as well as the Mountaineers from 3-point range, however. WVU is hitting at a red-hot 51 percent clip in home games this year. It is 24th in the NCAA in coring offense.

Defensively, West Virginia will look to contain 6-8, 235-pound Justin Burrell. The freshman leads the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 12.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He will likely be matched against Alexander, who has similar size and the ability to create a stalemate defensively. Three other St. John's players are averaging more than nine points per game. One of the better individual match-ups is WVU's Darris Nichols against Red Storm point guard Eugene Lawrence. Both are seniors with immense experience – Lawrence has more than 90 starts and Nichols has played in all 120 games of his career – and mirror each other in that they are not major scorers, though could be, but do run sets ell and take care of the basketball.

"They play really hard," Huggins said. "Their game at Connecticut I thought they played extremely hard defensively. Connecticut got out in transition and got easy baskets and hopefully that's something that we can do a better job of. They're physical and we're going to have to be strong with the basketball for sure."

The Mountaineers are 38-3 at home in the last 41 games and have won 14 straight. They are winning games by an average of 32.4 points this season. Each win has come by at least 14 points, and nine of 12 victories are by 20 or more points, though this match-up would indicate a close contest.


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