SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
In the frontcourt, sophomores Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill form a very strong tandem. While neither is likely to overpower WVU's frontline, the pair's excellent mobility and all-around ball skills make them very difficult to defend. Budinger (6-7, 205 lbs.) averages 17 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and gets shots from the lane all the way out to the three-point line. He can't be left unguarded at twenty feet, but has the ability to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot as well. Hill (6-10, 225 lbs.) provides the perfect complement to Budinger, as he roams the lane and finds openings created by Budinger and the Wildcat guards. He averages 13.2 points per game on 62% shooting, and leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per outing. He also tops the Wildcats with 55 blocks.
Jerryd Bayless (Fr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) continues a long line of outstanding Arizona guards. He was in the starting lineup from day one of his career, and despite the presence of Budinger and Hill, leads the Wildcats with a 20 points per game average. He shoots 40% from beyond the arc and averages more than four assists per game. His only hole is a slight propensity for turnovers, but given the pace at which Arizona plays, and his productivity in all other areas, that's a small price to pay.
The lone upperclassman in the starting lineup is Jawann McClellan (Sr., 6-4, 205 lbs.). He is a steady all-around performer who averages 8.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and provides stability for the youngsters around him. Nic Wise (So., 5-10, 180 lbs.) runs the offense, and has dished out 119 assists while averaging just less than 30 minutes per game. He missed seven games due to injury during the conference season, and his return has certainly solidified the ‘Cats starting five.
Off the bench, Arizona features three players that all have starting experience, but there is not a lot of scoring productivity among the trio. Still, they can be counted on to provide steady play while in the lineup. Jamelle Horne (Fr., 6-6, 205 lbs.) is the primary sub in the front court, and averages 3.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in just fewer than 16 minutes per game. Bret Brielmaier (Sr., 6-7, 240 lbs.) chips in with 2.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per contest. Daniel Dillon (Sr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) is first off the bench at the guard position, and while not a big scorer (2.1 points), provides a nearly tree-to-one assist to turnover ratio.
A defensive matchup could tell the tale in what promises to be one of the most interesting and entertaining first-round matchups of the tournament.
|Thu Mar 20
WVU - 7
UA - 10
In the end, it will likely be, "all of the above", as West Virginia figures to employ several different tactics to keep the Wildcats' big three in check. Items such as these are a big part of the beauty of the NCAA tournament. Much like a bowl game in football, fans get to see different matchups at this time of year, and that factor certainly sparks a great deal of interest. The questions don't stop with just the starting lineups, either. When Wellington Smith comes on, does he take Hill or Budinger? Putting Smith away from the basket cuts down on his ability to come off his man and block shots near the basket, but his mobility in the open court might be needed as well. The first few trips up and down the court will reveal West Virginia's initial thinking, and it will be interesting to see how Arizona responds to the Mountaineers' defensive deployments.
On the opposite end of the court, West Virginia must find a third scoring option to complement Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler. Darris Nichols is certainly capable of doing so, but sometimes forgets his ability to score as he runs the team and defends. His great value in protecting and distributing the ball can't be overlooked, but if he can score 12 or 14 points then West Virginia will be very difficult to beat. If not Nichols, then it has to be Alex Ruoff, whose three-point shots will be critical for WVU as well. If Ruoff can make three or four from long range, again, it will be tough to knock the Mountaineers out of the tournament. Scoring could also come from Joe Mazzulla, whose offense peaked during the conference season before tailing off at the end and during the Big East tournament. A few drives, some fouls and free throws, and Mazzulla could be the third man in that propels the Mountaineers.
UA: None Reported
Arizona will be making its 24th consecutive NCAA appearance, the best active string in the nation. The record is 27 by North Carolina from 1975 to 2001. Kansas has the second-best active streak at 19.
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West Virginia's 24 wins this year gives head coach Bob Huggins his 22nd 20-win season. Huggins also joins a select group of just two other coaches in WVU history to win 20 games during their first season coaching the Mountaineers. The other two were Lee Patton (24-3 in 1946) and George King (23-4 in 1961).
West Virginia has now won 20 or more in each of its last four seasons. That's the longest such streak since a seven season run from 1981-87.
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The perception that the NCAA gave the Wildcats, traveling across three time zones, a bit of a break in start times might be a stretch. While the 9:40 p.m. scheduled tip-off does equate to 6:40 p.m. in Tucson, would Arizona modify its Tuesday and Wednesday schedules to keep their bodies on their own time? And if they win, would they be able to do so through Saturday, when tip-off comes at 2:20 p.m.?
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With three blocked shots against Arizona, West Virginia would eclipse the current single season record of 176, set in 2004 on the strength of D'or Fishcer's 124 individual rejections. Wellington Smith (55) and Joe Alexander (49) head WVU's effort this year.