SCOUTING THE VIKINGS
Cleveland State, winner of four of five, begins a road crush that has it playing five away games in its next six to finish a stretch of a seventh game in 15 days. The Vikings (5-2) are considered the primary challenger to Butler in the Horizon League and led the top RPI-rated Bulldogs until a buzzer-beating three-pointer in the 50-48 loss Thursday. The emotionally-draining defeat on already-weakening legs could hurt CSU's early performance, and might give West Virginia a larger edge than it already had.
State does, however, return the majority of their team after going from 20 loses to 20 wins within one season. The Vikings made the NIT and, under current head coach Gary Waters, seemed prime to again challenge for a league title and NCAA berth. Waters, 4-3 against the Mountaineers while at Rutgers, is in his third season in Cleveland and has built a program that should be able to reload as opposed to rebuild. The seven key players that turned the program around are back, led by forward J'Nathan Bullock. The 6-5, 240-pound senior averages 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and has the muscle to hang inside with WVU. The Flint, Mich. native was a preseason All-Horizon League pick, and ranks 12th in all-time school scoring. He's also fifth in free throws attempted and sixth in free throws made, meaning West Virginia won't be able to latch on without paying for it. Point guard Cedric Jackson, a St. John's transfer, is hitting at a clip of almost 10 points, six rebounds and five assists per game. At 6-3 and 190 pounds, the senior has the build, savvy and experience to exploit any defensive match-ups. He knows where to go with the ball, and Tos. Jackson has played West Virginia three times previously, once as a starter, but has a high of just two points in an average of 23 minutes per game.
Sophomores Norris Cole and D'Aundray Brown are solid additions and examples of players willing to fit as role players. Cole, a 6-1, 175-pound shooting guard, averages a dozen points per game and is an above-average passer. Brown, an undersized small forward (6-4, 175 pounds), is scoring 9.4 points with 6.5 rebounds on average. He can hit the mid-range jumper or get past a defender, two aspects Waters takes advantage of to pull foes away from the rim and open lanes. Senior center Chris Moore (6-9, 240 pounds), a former Gaucho at UC-Santa Barbara, is a nuts-and-bolts type, a player who rarely jumps out on the stat line or within the game, but does the dirty work to keep his team competitive. His five points and four rebounds per contest aren't much for a team averaging 63.6, but West Virginia can't ignore his physicality and ability to set great screens to open shots.
Felllw inside player George Tandy, at 6-8, 210 pounds, provides a height and length boost for CSU. The toughness of the bench comes from Renard Fields, a 6-7, 220-pounder. His skill level isn't great, but he'll put a body on foes and is extremely efficient in terms of shot selection and field goal percentage. The final three spots, according to CSU, consist of sophomore guard Eric Schiele (3.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg) and freshmen guards Josh McCoy (1.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg) and Jeremey Montgomery (3.7 ppg, 1.4 apg). All are used sparingly, but do allow Waters to steal minutes here and there for his entire lineup.
This is a team playing together well. Much like West Virginia's 2005 squad, Cleveland State built the program with a solid nucleus of freshman players that are now veterans. And, like that WVU team, the Vikings are getting outrebounded (38.6-36.1 boards per game on average) but shooting well enough that it largely doesn't matter. State is making 40 percent from the field and creating a rash of turnovers (149 thus far) while having a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. CSU still pounds the ball inside, but hasn't gotten to the line effectively (25 fewer free throws than opponents) and has made just 64.9 percent from there. If it comes down to free throw shooting, a smattering of clangs, bricks and bad misses could result.
|Sat. Dec. 6
1 p.m. EST
Cleveland State 5-3
West Virginia 2-0
WVU - 50
Cleveland State - 123
Cleveland State's other problem is that is has shot poorly from three-point range as well. Waters has never had great shooting squads, but CSU's 27 of 111 effort thus far (24.3 percent) is among the worst in the nation. Its average of approximately three threes per game is 311th out of 330 teams. That's a bad sign for the match-up with WVU. The Mountaineers have the height and talent to control State in the inside, something it struggled with at times against Kentucky. Thus, the Vikings won't likely be able to muster a series of inside points, or stop West Virginia from getting to the rim. And because it can't rely on a perimeter-based game like Iowa, there are really few answers other than throwing the ball up and going to get it – which plays right into head coach Bob Huggins' player strengths.
This is a difficult game for CSU. The Butler loss, the start of a difficult stretch and poor player-by-player match-ups combine to ease what many consider to be a potential upset. For the Mountaineers, the game is the lone one at home in seven contests, falls between two tough games at Mississippi and in New York versus Davidson and was supposed to be the second-most important of the two major athletic events in Morgantown this weekend. That's no longer, however, as even a non-Big East, non-major conference basketball game is now more imperative than the WVU-South Florida football game.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (questionable; left shoulder contusion).
Cleveland State: None.
The two teams last met in December of 1977, WVU winning 76-66. The lone other meeting was in February of 1977, a game in which Huggins played, scoring seven points and recording two assists, four steals and zero turnovers in 23 minutes – his time likely limited by the 107-69 final score.
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Alex Ruoff needs two points to reach 1,000 for his career. He hasn't shot well this season, but should reach 200 career three-pointers (has 193) within the next two to three games, and is averaging 15.8 points, a career high. He would be WVU's 45th 1,000 point scorer. Four of those have come within the last five years (Tyrone Sally, Jo Herber, Kevin Pittsnogle and Patrick Beilein). Butler needs 93 to reach 1,000. Darris Nichols had 993 career points and Mike Gansey had 976.
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Cleveland State associate head coach Jayson Gee played and coached at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. He led the Golden Eagles to a 160-55 record in seven seasons stating in 1996. In 1998-99, UC went 26-6 and earned its first NCAA bid. UC went 28-4 the next season, when Gee was a finalist for national coach of the year honors. He graduated from Charleston in 1988.
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Huggins is 6-5 against Cleveland State. The Vikings won five of the six meetings from 1984-89 when Huggins served as head coach at Akron. Huggins has won the last four games, three at Cincinnati and one at Kansas State. This will be the third time Waters has faced Huggins. The first, on March 17, 2001, came when fifth-seeded Cincinnati beat 12th-seeded Kent State 66-43 in an NCAA Tournament second round game in San Diego. It was Waters' final game at Kent State before moving on to Rutgers.
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Saturday's game is the first of a three-game series. WVU plays at Cleveland State next year in the third annual McLendon Scholarship Classic with CSU returning to Morgantown for a game during the 2010-11 campaign. A date for the McLendon game has not yet been determined.