SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
Davidson, 6-1, has yet to see a team with the physical focus of the Mountaineers. Led by guard Stephen Curry, the small school has racked up big scoring numbers. Averaging 86.7 points per game – more than 30 of those coming via three-pointers – Davidson has crushed all non-major conference opposition while splitting with Oklahoma and N.C. State. The 23rd-ranked ‘Cats come of a 72-67 win over the Wolfpack on Saturday in which Curry, who averages 31.3 points per game, matched a career-high with 44. It's been an up-and-down scoring season for the junior. Curry, 6-3 and 185 pounds, simply stood away from the action in one game in which he was double-teamed, taking few shots and allowing teammates to play four-on-three in a win. In others, like his last outing, he dominates the action, hitting clutch shots in the lane, finding the net on off-balance, seemingly impossible jumpers and canning fall-away, banked-in threes. There's little question this is WVU's most difficult individual test thus far. Curry won't outmuscle counterpart Joe Mazzulla, if he is able to play after suffering a shoulder bruise two games ago against Ole Miss. If he can't go, WVU is expected to rotate different defenders to try to get Curry out of rhythm. But Curry's quickness, ability off the dribble and excellent shooting touch make him an impossibility to shut down. As with most greats, the idea is contain.
West Virginia isn't as likely to utilize a mixture of defenses as it did versus Mississippi. Davidson's 45.1 percent shooting from the floor is stoked by Curry and Bryant Barr, the 6-4, 190-pound shooting guard who is actually more accurate than his teammate from behind the arc. Curry drains 40.9 percent of his three-pointers. Bryant is making 42.3 (22 of 52). The junior is shooting far worse, actually, from closer range and is terribly ineffective in getting to the line – he has one free throw attempt this season. He doesn't rebound well, has more turnovers than assists and is, generally, a marksman only for 20th-year head coach Bob McKillop. Three-guard Max Paulhus Gosselin, 6-6, 210 pounds, averages 3.7 points and four boards per game, but he will miss the West Virginia game due to a mandatory one-game ban by the Southern Conference for his ejection during Saturday's win over North Carolina State.
The forwards, largely forgotten in the spiced enthusiasm for Curry, are Andrew Lovedale and Steve Rossiter. Lovedale, 6-8, 220 pounds, plays 32 minutes per game and averages 14.7 points and 7.6 rebounds. He is the lone player with significant minutes not to take a three as of yet, but he does get to the line. West Virginia must limit his second-chance points, something that should be expected considering WVU matches up well in the strength and body-size categories. Rossiter is active all over the floor. The 6-7, 230-pounder isn't a scorer, but can pass, play defense, crash the boards, create turnovers and be an all-around pain for teams, much like WVU's Da'Sean Butler. He's the intangible player, the one getting to loose balls and making his squad more difficult to beat while throwing his weight where it needs to be.
Backup guard Brenden McKillop, 6-1, 185 pounds, is the younger son of the head coach. The sophomore played in 190 games last season, and is averaging five points and a rebound in 16 minutes per contest this year. He's used mostly to get a few minutes rest for all guards, and he hasn't shot well this season. Guard/forward Will Archambault, 6-6, 220 pounds, has major playing time for a reserve. He led all freshman in Davidson scoring two years ago, then played in 36 games last season. The Canadian is averaging seven points and four rebounds in 22 minutes per game. He has struggled shooting from the field and line, but is second on the team in assists with 18. Forward Ben Allison, 6-9, 220-pound freshman, redshirted last season after playing for Great Britain in the last two under-20 European Championships. Born in Belgium, Allison was named the UK's MVP. A solid shooter with good range, Allison is still somewhat of a finesse player not used to the American rough-and-tumble he'll get facing West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.
That seems to be a theme of the game: Davidson's shooting and finesse style against WVU's tenacious, hard-nosed style. The Wildcats have some bulk, though, and have proven they can hang inside even with excellent interior players like Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. The key will be for West Virginia to make Davidson earn all points. Guard the perimeter, keep Curry somewhat in check and don't turn the ball over. Davidson is feasting on that aspect, especially against lesser teams. It has 81 turnovers this year compared to 146 for opponents, an average of 10 more per game. If the ‘Cats match those numbers, West Virginia has no chance.
|Tue. Dec. 9
7 p.m. EST
Madison Square Garden
West Virginia 18-15
WVU - 35
Davidson - 49
The Mountaineers must be patient and willing to wait for decent shots. They can't take too many defensive chances, either, allowing open looks from three-point range. Any easy inside baskets must be forcefully challenged, and luring Davidson into a hack ‘em affair would be great – if free throw shooting improves. Of now, Davidson is making a very respectable 77.4 percent from the line, so WVU has to pick and choose. Finishing in transition and blocking out also loom large, as they do in most other games. Ball protection is the be-all, end-all though. Force the Wildcats into significant turnover numbers and being opportunistic on both ends equals great efficiency. That's what it will take to beat a team that has shown, time and again, the ability to do so as well.
This will be Davidson's second road game – it did play James Madison in Norman, Okla. When it took part in the Sooner-hosted initial rounds of the NIT Early-Season Tip-off – so that has the potential to hurt, especially against a WVU squad that routinely plays there in the regular and postseason. The relative experience of the Wildcats, though, is more than that of the Mountaineers, which might provide balance. Still, one never knows how teams react to the proclaimed World's Most Famous Arena. As is typical, it's about in-game adjustments and execution. The rest is window dressing.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Shoulder) Questionable; Jonnie West (Foot) Out.
Davidson: Max Paulhus Gosselin (Suspension) Out.
The two teams have a significant history for what appears an obscure match-up because of their former conference affiliation. Twenty of the 33 meetings came when both teams were members of the Southern Conference. WVU was 12-8 in those games. The Mountaineers still own the nation's longest-ever conference winning streak. The last meeting was in the 1994 NIT in Morgantown, where West Virginia won 85-69. Davidson is still in the SoCon. The two head coaches have never faced each other. Huggins has never faced Davidson as a coach.
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This is the 199th time West Virginia will play a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. WVU has 59 wins in those games. The Mountaineers received one vote in the latest ESPN/USA Today Poll.
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West Virginia has won 10 of its last 14 games at Madison Square Garden but is just 25-39 all-time at the facility. It is playing its first game in the Jimmy V. Classic. Huggins' Cincinnati team participated in 2002, beating Oregon by 25 points. WVU has won 27 of its last 28 December games and six of its last seven in the state of New York.
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Butler needs 57 points to become West Virginia's 46th 1,000-point scorer. Alex Ruoff, the lone senior on the roster, reached the mark last game. The two players have been significant in the 59 team wins since the start of the 2006 season.