Trio Of Trouble

DePaul's interior size would seem the worst match-up for a West Virginia team lacking in such. But it's the guard play that could loom largest in a key road clash for the Mountaineers.

The Blue Demons (10-16, 5-9 Big East) offer a pair of 6-10 post players in Mac Koshwal and Matija Poscic. The duo combines for more than 13 points and 10 rebounds per game. But that productivity, the vast majority of which comes from Koshwal, a freshman, pales when compared to the trio of guards. Seniors Cliff Clinkscales and Draelon Burns distribute the ball effectively and combine for 20 points per game, with Burns netting 17.2 on average. What will help WVU is that neither is effective from 3-point range, making just 30 percent on the season. Still, add in frosh Dar Tucker, who does a bit of everything, and West Virginia's starters will need to better their foes because of differential in bench productivity.

"He is a big guard, a strong kid," Nichols said of Burns. "He can get into the lanes. You have to know where he is and get help because he makes the rest of the team better."

DePaul will try to attack the defense and put pressure on the rim. Because of their lack of outside threats – the Blue Demons make 34.7 percent from 3-point range – WVU's man defense will be challenged on drives and individually. Nichols, along with Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler, will need to match physicality and not be intimidated early. West Virginia wilted under the tough play of Villanova and Cincinnati, and when it doesn't make shots, that problem is magnified.

"You can't do that on the road," Nichols said of the recent slow starts. "That's how the Big East is. It really doesn't matter who you play. You can't really look at DePaul or UConn any different. (DePaul is) a good team, but the record does not show it."

The Blue Demons appear far deeper than WVU. They play 10 players more than 10 minutes per game, on average, and seven players nearly 20-plus minutes per contest. Those numbers have not changed in Big East play, meaning head coach Jerry Wainright is committed to continuing to mix veterans and youth. But it remains that most of the offense goes through the guards – sophomore guard Will Walker came off the bench to score 20 points on five-of-five 3-point shooting versus Seton Hall – which could lend the game to an up-and-down style.

DePaul, tied for 12th in the Big East, has lot three games in a row and seven of its last eight. Four of the losses have come by single digits, however, and the Demons are beginning to showcase better team play. They lost 65-60 at Connecticut and 73-71 at Seton Hall in the last two outings. A few more positive plays, and DePaul could be winners of three of four. A win is a must for West Virginia (19-8, 8-6), which will likely need to defeat the Blue Demons and win at St. John's, as well as getting a split of contests at home against Pitt and on the road versus Connecticut. A 3-1 finish would leave the Mountaineers at 22-9 overall and 11-7 in league play, impressive numbers with arguably two marquee wins (Marquette and Pitt/UConn). A split would down equate to double-digit loses entering the Big East Tournament. Anything else, and a second consecutive NIT bid is nearly assured.

"It means a lot," Nichol said of getting to 20 wins. "In the past, 20 wins would get you in the tournament. But now, you never know. You try to get as many as you can. Once you get to 20 wins it is a successful season. But what you do down the stretch is important. You have to finish the season strong. The NCAA committee looks at the last 12 games. We want our senior night to be the last time playing in (the Coliseum). Last year Frank Young and Rob Summers had to come back for the NIT. We want Senior Night to be the last time."

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