Preview: West Virginia - Providence

West Virginia must shake off the effects of a two-game home losing streak as it travels to Providence for what is a must-win in terms of NCAA hopes for both squads.


Whom to guard? That's the question when facing Providence, which features five players averaging in double figures in scoring. PC might not have many household names, but they have a roster of players that can combine to cause problems for opponents that can't defend up and down the lineup.

The Friars mostly deploy a three-guard lineup, led by transfer Jeff Xavier. After attending Manhattan College for two seasons, Xavier transferred to Providence and sat out the 2006-07 season. Xavier (Jr., 6-1, 185 lbs) has continued the scoring ways he established in his first collegiate stop, averaging 12.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for the Friars. He is also the team's top theft man with 43 steals. He bombs away from the outside, with 144 of his 224 shot attempts coming from beyond the arc. He is nicely complemented by Dwain Williams (So., 6-0, 170 lbs.) who tossed in 11.6 points per outing on the strength of 38.5% three-point shooting, and Brian McKenzie (So., 6-4, 205 lbs.) whose scoring average is the same. McKenzie is also a solid inside player, tallying 4.2 rebounds per contest, and is an effective shooter from anywhere on the floor.

On the front line, Randall Hanke, who sat out last season, has returned to be a dependable player on both ends of the floor. Hanke (Jr., 6-11, 240 lbs.) deposits 6.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and teams with Geoffrey McDermott to give the Friars some punch inside. McDermott (Jr., 6-8, 235 lbs.) leads the frontcourt effort with 10.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and will be a difficult matchup for a hobbled Joe Alexander when the Mountaineers are in their man-to-man defense. McDermott, a preseason all-Big East selection, also leads the team with 24 blocks.

Off the bench, Weyinmi Efejuku, who destroyed the Mountaineers in last year's matchup at Providence, is a sometime starter who stands second on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per outing. Efejuku (Jr., 6-5, 210 lbs.) is yet another player who isn't shy about shooting from long range, and he chips in 3.5 rebounds per outing as well. Jamine Peterson (Fr., 6-6, 225 lbs.) provides swingman support, and his first year averages of 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds are notable on a team filled with sophomores and juniors. Jonathan Kale (Jr., 6-8, 245 lbs.) is the primary relief man on the front line, and he provides that service capably with tallies of 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per appearance.


It might be just a little premature to call this game an elimination contest for NCAA tournament hopes, but the loser of this game will have to go on a serious late season run in order to garner any serious notice for a tournament at-large bid.
Game Info
Sat Feb 2
7:00 p.m.

Dunkin' Donuts Center
WVU 15-6, 4-4
PC 12-8, 305
PC 11-10
Sirius Channel: 122
WVU - 48
PC - 51
Whether that analysis is premature remains to be seen, but with Providence coming off a three-game losing streak, and WVU a two-game skid, there's no doubt that both teams desperately need a win in order to get back on track. The Friars might be in more desperate shape, with five conference losses on its ledger, but the Mountaineers, who dropped from second to tenth in the league over the past week, are also teetering on a visit to the dregs of the conference standings.

While West Virginia obviously needs to shoot the ball better (woes from the free throw line against Georgetown and the field against Cincinnati were primary reasons for its two losses), this game is more of a test of will for WVU. The Mountaineers must show they are capable of some of the toughness that head coach Bob Huggins is looking for – and not only in the area of physical strength. They have to show the ability to put the last two games behind them. They have to figure out a way to respond when the home team makes a run. They have to drive the ball to the basket and take a shot that has a chance of going in, rather than flipping the ball at the hoop and hoping for a foul call, or meekly passing the ball back out when confronted by a defender. They have to play with passion, something that was obviously missing from the outset of the Cincinnati debacle.

Can this happen? Yes. Will it? That's much tougher to predict. The team on the floor of the Coliseum on Wednesday night was beaten before the ball was tossed into the air for the opening tip. While there are some players that are mentally strong enough to bounce back from this, and handle the blunt coaching methods of Huggins, it remains to be seen whether the team as a whole can do the same thing. WVU likely needs seven more wins to secure an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, and with a minimum of 11 games remaining, it can't waste a single opportunity to get one. Providence, while posing a challenge at home, is the sort of team the Mountaineers have to defeat in order to reach its goals. But then again, we said the same thing about Cincinnati.


WVU: Joe Alexander (Groin) Probable

PC: Sharaud Curry (Foot) Out


Providence has one of the most balanced offenses West Virginia will face this year. In addition to the five players detailed in the scouting report who are averaging more than 10 points per game, the Friars boast a list of six players who have recorded 20 or more points in a game this season. Weyinmi Efejuku leads the team with six 20-point games, while Brian McKenzie has registered four 20-point contests. Jeff Xavier and Dwain Williams each have three 20-point performances, and Geoff McDermott and Randall Hanke each have recorded two 20-point games.

* * *

The statistical tale of West Virginia's Big East games paints quite a different picture than the one shown in its overall stat list. In league games, WVU is shooting just 38.1% from the field, and 30.8% from the three-point line. The Mountaineers are also getting outrebounded by five boards per outing.

While the Mountaineers have been solid defensively in Big East play, their offensive continuity has been spotty, to say the least.

* * *

Providence freshman Alex Kellogg is the son of former Ohio State star Clark Kellogg. The younger Kellogg has appeared in 16 games for the Friars this year, averaging just over eight minutes per game.

* * *

With an enrollment just under 4,000, Providence has the smallest student body in the Big East. Villanova is the next smallest, with 6,200.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories