Preview: West Virginia - Iowa

It's time for Bob Huggins and West Virginia to up the competition ante in Sin City as the Mountaineers meet Iowa tonight in the semifinal round of the Las Vegas Invitational.


WVU has thus far feasted upon lower-level competition that didn't truly test much of anything. Undefeated Iowa (5-0) is expected to provide a stiffer challenge, though how much is yet to be determined. Like West Virginia, head coach Tim Lickliter's team has bested average foes with relative ease. Iowa dispatched its fivesome by an average of more than 18 points per game and wasn't played well save a 73-67 victory over Texas-San Antonio.

West Virginia enters 3-0 after whipping Elon, Longwood and Delaware State. All three games were technically home match-ups – DSU played at the Charleston Civic Center – meaning Iowa serves as the Mountaineers first road contest. The Hawkeyes have a bit of an experience edge after going on the road to face The Citadel, but after a 13-19 season last year are still adapting to Lickliter in his second year. That, combined with the youth vs. experience angle, makes for an interesting match-up.

Where the Mountaineers get much of their scoring from senior Alex Ruoff (18.7 ppg) and junior Da'Sean Butler (14.3 ppg), Iowa's infusion of freshman talent has paced it thus far. Guards Anthony Tucker and Matt Gatens are scoring at an average of 15.8 and 11.0 points per game, respectively. That would normally point to Lickliter getting more of "his type" of players. But with seven of 13 Iowa players being newcomers, that's as much odds as skill. Tucker, at 6-4 and 200 pounds, has yet to find a long-range shot he doesn't take. He is average more than nine three-point attempts per game and is hitting at a 43.5 percent clip. He's also a decent rebounder, but doesn't get into the defense, and thus lacks free throw opportunities. Gatens, an Iowa City native, was named the state's Mr. Basketball as a senior. The 6-5, 215-pounder is a solid shooter (17 of 31 on the season, nine of 16 3pt.), and can't be left unguarded anywhere on the floor. The Hawkeyes are likely to set up front, back and staggered screens to free Gatens. The frosh doesn't handle particularly well, however, an aspect of which WVU could take advantage.

Point guard Jeff Petersen is making 54 percent of his shots. He doesn't take as many long chances as his counterparts, but can attack the rim reasonably for a six-footer. His match-up with Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla will be a key, and the latter Mountaineer needs to keep Petersen from getting around him and into the lane. That will open kick-outs for Iowa's better outside shooters. Forwards Aaron Fuller and Cyrus Tate combine for more than 15 points per game. Tate is the interior muscle, and, at 255 pounds, averages a team-best 7.6 rebounds. He is effective on the glass, and will provide the best insight yet as to WVU' still-undersized ability to play with major conference frontcourt talent. Fuller, 6-6, 210 pounds, is a solid defender with well-rounded play.

Backup guard Jake Kelly is a solid shooter with an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (15-3) who gives the Hawkeyes quality minutes off the bench. Fellow reserve guard Jermain Davis plays the second-most minutes of any sub despite being an unknown of yet. The Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College transfer hasn't shot well, has turned the ball over and isn't rebounding particularly well. But that could be as much a case of the staff attempting to better assimilate him as anything. Davis remains a bit of a wild card against West Virginia. Three reserve forwards, including former Mountaineer Devan Bawinkel, play at least eight to 10 minutes per game as the rotation continues to develop.


Neither team has played any competition of this caliber, and both have freshman that are getting initial road tests. Iowa further complicates the outlook question because of its reliance on new players. WVU is still led by veterans, both of the regular season and NCAA Tournament, and the Mountaineers have better talent, which usually trumps all.
Game Info
Fri. Nov. 28
9:00 p.m. EST

Orleans Arena in Las Vegas
WVU 3-0
Iowa 5-0
Iowa 1-0
Big East Network
MSN Radio
WVU - 199
Iowa - 119

But can the Mountaineers handle a patient style? Can it efficiently guard the perimeter? When will Huggins take off some defensive shackles and go to zones, or varying looks to confuse Iowa's youth-laden roster? Iowa is still a developing team, and West Virginia appears to have an advantage overall. But the system shock of Vegas, along travel and the potential for distraction are great.

This is certainly most intriguing game of the year for both teams thus far, and should show much. The easy idea is that this is Iowa's system play against the free flow preferences of Huggins. But there is much more. How do the squads react when one team pulls ahead? Will freshmen battle in close games, or fold under pressure? What's the psychological makeup of West Virginia and Iowa in this young season? The two games in Vegas will reveal much.


WVU: Josh Sowards (ankle), doubtful.

Iowa: None.


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WVU is 1-2 in games played in Nevada. It last played in the city in the Jim Thorpe Classic in 2002. The Mountaineers are in a stretch of playing six of seven games on the road. They are 5-2 on Nov. 22.

* * *

The only other game between the teams was at the Dixie Classic in Raleigh, N.C. in 1956. Iowa won 79-76. The Hawkeyes, with a win, would even WVU's all-time mark against Big Ten foes to 77-77. This will be the first Big Ten team played by the Mountaineers since they lost at Minnesota to start the 1996 season. Huggins is 1-0 versus Iowa, beating them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

* * *

Iowa is staying at the Red Rock Resort. The school has not played in Vegas since the 1989-90 season, when it challenged UNLV. The WVU game will be held inside the Orleans Arena, an off-the-strip New Orleans-themed hotel. The arena hosts the Las Vegas Wranglers (arena football), and is slated for shows by Larry The Cable Guy and the Harlem Globetrotters, of widely varying athletic abilities.

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