Preview: West Virginia - Providence

West Virginia hosts Providence just three weeks after defeating the Friars on their homecourt, but a second win is anything but a sure thing.

UPDATING THE FRIARS

Since losing to West Virginia, the Friars have gone 1-4. PC managed to bounce back briefly with a home win over DePaul, but then lost to woeful St. John's, Pitt, Louisville and Georgetown as they fell to the .500 mark overall on the season. With the NCAAs out of the question, Providence is playing for a .500 record and a spot in one of the two junior postseason tournaments, as well as for one of the final spots in the Big East tournament.

Junior transfer Jeff Xavier continues to lead a balanced scoring attack, with five Friars averaging in double figures. A scan of PC's stat table reveals similar balance, and a picture of a team that plays at the .500 level. Shooting percentages, rebounding, scoring – no matter where you look, the totals of Providence and those of their foes are separated by only a few units.

Like many teams in that situation, Providence does most of its damage at home. The Friars are 9-4 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, but just 1-7 in road venues. West Virginia hopes that trend continues on Saturday evening at the Coliseum.

OUTLOOK

Providence centers Randall Hanke and Ray Hall combined for 24 points and seven rebounds in West Virginia's win over the Friars on Feb. 2, and the duo will likely be looking for a Groundhog Day effect from that contest as they try to spoil WVU's NCAA hopes.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat Feb 23
7:00 p.m.

WVU Coliseum
Records
WVU 18-8, 7-6
PC 13-13, 4-10
Series
Tied 11-11
TV
ESPN+
Sirius Channel: 126
RPI
WVU - 39
PC - 102
The style of Hanke and Hall – big guys who can post up on the blocks and power the ball to the basket – is that which gives West Virginia the most trouble in the lane. The Mountaineers have been able to guard quicker foes that depend on motion and cutting to the basket, but players that have strength and size cause problems for the undersized Mountaineers. Center Jamie Smalligan, who has shown defensive improvement over the last month, could be a key factor in battling the duo.

West Virginia's effort and defensive execution will also be under the looking glass in this game. Neither was apparent at Villanova, and in a system that requires constant work to defeat the array of screens it encounters, any lapse in intensity usually results in an open shot. Maintaining head coach Bob Huggins' desired level of effort is job one, but it's easier said than done. Playing tough defense every trip down the floor is not only physically demanding, but also mentally tough. However, if West Virginia is to win this game and keep its fading Big Dance hopes alive, it will be due to its play on that end of the floor. While some might point to WVU's shooting as the obvious key, it's apparent that the Mountaineers can stay in, and win, games in which it doesn't shoot well, so long as it plays with passion on the other end of the floor.

When it does have the ball, West Virginia has to be more aggressive at driving to the basket. WVU's pair of Joes is o.k. in that area of play, but others must commit to beating their defenders off the dribble. While many Mountaineers do try to drive, far too often the move ends in a pull up shot or a stop and a retreat to the perimeter. Again, in a league full of talented defenders, that's not an easy task, and it certainly won't be simple against the Friars' 2-3 zone, but WVU must be able to force the action and get to the rim – and score – in order to lessen its dependence on jump shots.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Ankle) Questionable

PC: Dwain Williams (Leg) Questionable, Sharaud Curry (Foot) Out

FAST BREAKS

Providence swingman Geoff McDermott is the first player in Friar history to record more than 250 rebounds and more than 150 assists in the same season. In 2007, he recorded 159 assists and 283 rebounds in 31 games. Demonstrating the difficulty of that feat, only eight other Friars have recorded as many as 100 or more rebounds and 100 or more assists in the same season.

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A comparison of the stat lines of West Virginia and Providence reveal very close matches in all categories but one – defense. WVU holds foes to a much lower shooting percentage (40.9 to PC's 44.8) and forced more turnovers (WVU's margin is 5.8 per game, PC's is 1.0). If West Virginia wins this game, defense is likely to be a big factor.

* * *

Anyone remember this game? Providence was 40-59 from the free throw line in a 90-87 overtime win over West Virginia on Jan. 5, 1999.

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Despite recording its highest-ever season ticket sales, West Virginia is averaging fewer than 10,000 fans per game at home. WVU's current home average of 9, 666 fans would place it no better than fifth on the Mountaineers' all-time single season attendance list.


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