SCOUTING THE LANCERS
The independent Lancers are West Virginia's opening-round foe in the Las Vegas Invitational. Lacking a true tournament format, all eight teams play a pair of initial games away from Vegas. The programs are then setup in two four-team brackets, with the winners advancing to meet and the losers playing a consolation games. The idea is that WVU, Iowa, Kentucky and Kansas State all sweep their initial two foes, allowing the invitational's "top bracket" to play out like a legit tournament.
That's expected, though Longwood, in its second Division I season under head coach Mike Gillian, appears primed to play solid basketball after a four-year transition to the upper echelon. The Lancers have won just 28 games the last three seasons, including 9-22 marks the last two years. The major issue is a lack of useable size. Gillian uses three true guards, one swingman and one forward, none of whom are taller than 6-7. Two of the three players with significant minutes off the bench are 6-1 guards, and the primary center is 6-6. It's possible to win with such a lineup with enough skill. Longwood, however, has the same problem as many lesser-known programs: there are so few talented centers that they rarely trickle down to that level.
So coaches load up on guards. For Longwood, the centerpiece is Ryan Bogan. The 6-1 shooting guard averaged 15 points over the final seven games last year, drilling 20 of his final 41 three-pointers. He is tied for the team lead in points averaged this year at 14.7, though he has cooled considerably from long range, hitting 27.3 percent. Swing player Dana Smith is also averaging 14.7 points, the majority coming from inside the paint. At 6-5, Smith is making 71.4 percent of his shots. He and Bogan combine to average more than 13 rebounds per game, though neither is a huge interior threat to West Virginia. Point guard Durran Neil is primarily a distributer. The sophomore hasn't shot well – just 33.3 percent, including 14.3 from three-point range – but dishes 4.7 assist per game and has yet to commit a turnover in more than 60 minutes of playing time.
Billy Robinson, Jr. is the lone true starting forward. With 4.7 points and 5.3 rebounds, the steady junior is the most experienced starter with 53 games played. With only 200 pounds on a 6-7 frame, though, one shouldn't him to muscle inside even with WVU's less-then-Big East-like frontcourt. Guard Kevin Swecker missed much of last season with mono and a foot injury, but began to find his shot in the latter stretch to average 14 points per game over the final three contests. Nothing jumps out about the junior save his ability to lull foes into a sense of complacency before getting hot.
Reserve Martiz Washington is averaging 10 points per game from the guard slot. The team's best spot-up shooter, the freshmen should continue to see additional minutes. Backup guard E.J. Dawson is scoring at a 7.0 ppg clip. He can play a variety of spots, allowing Gillian to shuffle the assignments as needed. Antwan Carter, a 6-6 center, is the main backup inside. He plays 17 minutes and averages five rebounds and six points per game.
Longwood is a much-improved program, but still one only rising and far from a peak. It lacks inside talent and should lose the numbers game when West Virginia begins to roll in skill. If the Lancers get hot from the outside, they might be able to free enough space for series of short jumpers. Gillian, finally competing with a full allotment of 13 scholarships, needs a better balance of front and back court play to even challenge for a .500 record.
|Thurs. Nov. 20
Mountaineer TV (online)
WVU - 262
Longwood - 214
And the schedule doesn't get much easier after this. Longwood travels to Maryland Eastern-Shore, then Lexington to face Kentucky. Virginia, Virginia Tech, George Washington and Florida dot a slate that has fewer than half the games at home. But Gillian, in his sixth year, has the foundation for future success. The former George Mason coach – the Bulldogs went to the Final Four with Gillian as an assistant – is in a solid recruiting area and should begin to compete with the Savannah States and Chicago State's of independent status.
The Mountaineers, likely beginning to look toward the match-up with Iowa in Las Vegas, need simply to continue to improve and get needed work in on inbounding and other aspects head coach Bob Huggins says the team has yet to drill. West Virginia is talented enough to win on talent alone in this game. It needs to strive for a better opening half than it had against Elon, and continue the foot-on-throat approach.
WVU: Josh Sowards (ankle), probable.
Longwood beat Gardner-Webb 85-84 Tuesday for among its biggest Division I wins, according to the coaching staff. A free throw and steal in the final six seconds sealed the game. Gardner-Webb's Runnin' Bulldogs won at Kentucky last year; the Lancers will play UK two games after they face WVU.
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Longwood's backup guards were both born in Germany, Dawson in Weisbaden and Washington in Munich. Carter, its center, is one of nine children. He has six brothers, including a twin, and two sisters. Swecker's cousin is former Duke guard and current Blue Devil assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski.
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With its win over Elon, West Virginia now has 100 wins since the start of the 2004-05 season. It won 53 games during last two years. This will be the 50th game at the WVU Coliseum since '04-05. The Mountaineers have won 44 of them and can reach a winning percentage of 90 with a victory against Longwood.
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West Virginia is 1-1 on Nov. 20, having defeated St. Peter's at home in 2004 and lost at Kentucky in 1991. The game attendance at UK was 22,384. This is the penultimate home game for the Mountaineers for the next 30-day period. Six of the next seven games are away from the Coliseum. WVU is 201-136 all-time in tournament games. It has won 39 of its last 41 non-conference home games, including 21 consecutive.