SCOUTING THE PHOENIX
Elon, 14-19 last season, won just three road games last year but managed to reach the league finals after a surprising postseason run. The lack of success – the Phoenix have not finished more than one game over .500 in 11 years – hasn't stopped head coach Ernie Nestor from again scheduling a solid slate, including match-ups against a pair of ACC schools along with the BracketBuster tournament in late February. That might be because this is his most experienced squad since the 2005-06 team won SoCo's North Division for the first league title of any sort for Elon since 1974.
Senior Ola Atoyebi ranked in the Southern Conference's top 10 in rebounding (6.3 rpg), field goal percentage (57.3) and free throw percentage (74.3) last year. At 6-8 and 220 pounds, he's not the largest inside force WVU will face this season. But his strength and knack for playmaking around the ball will be a reasonable initial test. Guard Brett James, 6-5, 185 pounds, plays larger than his size. The Phoenix's leading scorer last year, James averaged 12.4 points per outing and had a double-double versus league power Davidson. More savvy than flashy, the senior has 56 career starts and doesn't rattle easily, even against major conference talent.
Juxtaposing James' steady-as-he-goes style is forward Adam Constantine. Acknowledged by Nestor as the team's most athletic player, the junior has yet to develop into a scoring threat. But his presence defensively (team-high 21 blocks last year) and on the boards aids a team lacking intimidation. James and Constantine will be the one-two punch for the small school. Point guard Chris Long, a West Virginia native, is expected to start after playing in all 33 games last year. Long finished as the all-time scoring leader at George Washington High in Charleston, W.Va., and was a first-team all-state honoree. Guard Devon Carter improved significantly toward the end of last season and is penciled in as a starter of now. The quickness of Carter and Long might surprise the West Virginia fan base, and if the duo's shooting gets hot it could present problems.
Freshmen guards Josh Bonney and Drew Spradlin saw significant time in Elon's pair of exhibition victories and will upgrade the talent level at the slot. Bonney distributed the ball well in the prep ranks, while Spradlin was a McDonald's All-American nominee as a first-team All-Ohio player. Nestor's guard-loaded roster lists just one true center in Daniel Watts, a 7-0, 230-pounder who was redshirted last year. Senior forward Mony Sanders, who averaged 5.1 points, could see major minutes to add height to the line-up. He is one of just four players taller than 6-6.
Elon doesn't have the numbers or size to directly attack the Mountaineers. Look, instead, for the Phoenix to play a controlled style in an attempt to keep the game low-scoring. Elon isn't a deadly force from the outside, and so will need to pass well and use the drive-and-kick to create open jumpers.
|Sat Nov. 15
Mountaineer TV (online)
|Sirius Channel: 126|
WVU - NA
Elon - NA
The school averaged 62 points per game last year, shooting 42.7 percent, including a pedestrian 31.6 percent from three-point range. Elon was also outrebounded and tallied 57 more turnovers than assists. This isn't a great team, nor likely even a good one of yet. But it does have some experience, and since reaching the finals, Nestor says team workouts and desire to improve have greatly increased. Merely wanting to win doesn't directly translate into victories, however, and on paper West Virginia should win easily.
The Mountaineers have their own questions. Who becomes the low-post or interior scoring threat in the absence of Joe Alexander? Who is the go-to player, the one most likely to make a play when needed? How do some of the newcomers fit into the scheme and style, and will the veterans mesh as well as they did last season? It's the typical first-game enigmas, and this match-up won't yield much in terms of showcasing raw ability to play with major league competition. There are things for which to watch, however: How does WVU execute its sets? Does it show the hustle to get back on defense, or struggle with run-outs? Will it defend for the full shot clock as needed? And are players moving away from the ball and feeding the hot hand?
This expects to be a fun night inside the Coliseum, with the newly renovated floor, scoreboard and displays getting their first showing when it counts. The ideal here might be to search for some intangibles rather than simply a score, and take a wait-and-see approach to this team.
Elon: Scott Grable (ACL surgery), out for season.
Founded by the Christian Church (now the United Church of Christ) in 1889, Elon is situated on a 575-acre campus near Burlington, N.C. The city is where the baseball scenes from Bull Durham were shot. Elon's 4,992 undergraduate and 636 graduate students come from 43 states, the District of Columbia and 51 other nations and the school was named the "Hottest to Watch" by Newsweek in its recent rankings. Tuition and fees total $24,076 for out-of-state students. North Carolina students pay just $2,000 less.
* * *
Elon has a pair of Mountain State natives in Long and St. Albans' T.J. Douglas. Douglas, a 6-6 junior forward, started 12 games last year and should see solid time again. He had a "career game," according to Elon' site, in the Southern Conference finals versus Davidson. Douglas hit six of 10 three-pointers for 18 points. Expect some West Virginia natives to cheer the Phoenix.
* * *
West Virginia has won 25 of its last 28 non-Big East games and 30 of its last 34 non-league games. Huggins, with 616 career wins, is solidly in fourth place among active coaches. He'll likely remain there, however, as he trails third-place Jim Boehiem by 155 victories. UConn's Jim Calhoun is second, giving the Big East three of the top four slots. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is first with 803 career wins. He was, of course, denied 804 by Huggins' Mountaineers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.