Preview: West Virginia - Miami (Ohio)

West Virginia will host just its fourth home game in 11 outings – a Big East low – as it faces Miami University at noon Saturday.


Miami, which has also had just three homes games, has played at UCLA and Pittsburgh, two of its three losses in nine games. The other defeat was at Xavier, meaning the RedHawks (6-3) have been beaten only by top 15 teams. There are no marquee victories, however, leaving head coach Charlie Coles to look to the game in Morgantown as a measuring stick. His hot-shooting, uber-experienced squad is led by four seniors. Forward Michael Bramos is making a blistering 53 percent from three-point range – still less than nine percentage points above the team average – in scoring more than 20 points per game. The 6-5, 225-pounder is deadly accurate from deep, but struggles inside the perimeter in makes. He gets to the line adequately, and has made 82 percent of his career foul shots, second on Miami's all-time list. He is just 22 points away from 1,000 and a pair of threes from cracking the school's top 10 list, making the match-up with the Mountaineers a potential milestone game.

Fellow forward Tyler Dierkers, 6-8, 220 pounds, hits for nine points and a team-best seven boards per outing. His game is purely inside, and he is converting well from the field. He's great on the offensive glass, and his 15 steals and four blocks showcase an underlying athleticism. Center Adam Fletcher, at 6-8 and 226 pounds, plays about 19 minutes per contest and averages two points and 2.6 rebounds. The St. Albans, W.Va. native has extensive career experience, but has moved into the stating line-up on a more permanent basis only as a redshirt junior. He is shooting extremely poorly (six of 26, 23.1 percent), and isn't a threat to win a game by himself.

Guard Kenny Hayes is, however. The 6-2, 183-pounder, played in all 33 games last year, starting 32, after transferring from Cincinnati State Community College where he was a Division II JUCO All-American. Hayes is scoring 14 points per game, and has made 16 of 30 threes. He is a threat all over the floor, with three rebounds and four assists, and he distributes adequately. Two-guard Eric Pollitz, is good for four points and three boards per game. He isn't a gunner, though at 6-5 and 204 pounds, his size and strength make for a difficult assignment. The two also get plenty of rest, as Coles utilizes eight players routinely and brings a ninth off the bench in spot duty.

Reserve forward Nick Winbush, who has started three games, plays 14 minutes on average and provides a spark as the sixth man. The 6-7, 213-pound sophomore is a decent shooter, but his primary goal is to provide solid defense and some offensive aid. He isn't a passer, though his 4.6 points could come from anywhere on the floor. Julian Mavunga, 6-8, 252 pounds, is a freshman out of Indian, where he was a two-time all-state selection. Still somewhat hesitant to use his offensive skills, the newcomer is settling into the flow of the college game. His upside is solid, though, and he is aggressive around the rim. Guard/forward Antonio Balland is beginning to show development after an injury sideline him for the first portions of last season. Still trying to find his shot, the sophomore is an above-average rebounder and can get several extra chances for Miami's shooters. Southern Indiana transfer Carl Richburg, 5-9, 183 pounds, played in 28 games last year and got his first collegiate start for the RedHawks this season. He is essentially a minute-filler for Coles. Freshman Kramer Soderberg is the other reserve guard. His father, Brad, is the former head coach at St. Louis. The 6-0, 172-pounder plays about eight minutes on average is another decent shooter who isn't on the floor for much else.


West Virginia must shoot better in this game than it has in the last three. The Mountaineers appeared hesitant and confused at times without Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff on the floor, and are relying on simply getting many more chances and looks than foes. That won't come as easily against Miami as it did Cleveland State or Davidson, and with both being game-time decisions – it seems as though Ruoff has a better chance at time – WVU could again be forced to rely on throwing it at the rim and rebounding. Miami has more bodies that are bigger, and though its shooting percentage is typically better at home, it would behoove West Virginia to run through something resembling a legit offense and create a few lanes and shots.
Game Info
Sat. Dec. 20
Noon EST

WVU Coliseum
WVU 7-2
Miami 6-3
West Virginia 1-0
MSN Radio
WVU - 37
Miami - 19

The stagnant stand-and-drive could prove too much to overcome, especially if the RedHawks continue to shoot as well as they have from the outside. This is the best shooting team WVU has played, and it rebounds well enough to cause problems. Games such as this, where even mid-major schools are more than capable of beating the Mountaineers, will become routine under head coach Bob Huggins. The idea is to find a way to win, to test a team's mettle and ability and willingness to find a path to victory in every game. West Virginia has passed that test the majority of the time thus far, even with adversity. It needs to do so again.

The keys will be to win, by a reasonable margin, the rebound battle, decrease turnovers and push the pace and convert in transition. Any availability of Ruoff could be hurt by his shoulder injury, as the senior is still trying to find his stroke while working back off the bruise. Even two or three three-pointers would do wonders in making Miami respect the outside game and opening chances inside. Wellington Smith should also play a major role. He has the outside touch to take up some slack, and the size to shoot over defenders. The junior is shooting 47.5 percent from the field, but has yet to get into the three-point groove the coaching staff would like. There are very few must-wins, and this certainly isn't one of them. But it's a game that has some bit of pressure to it, a need to find a way to a win, especially with Ohio State and the Big East slate looming within one and two weeks, respectively.


WVU: Joe Mazzulla, Out(growth plate fracture), Alex Ruoff, Probable (subluxed rib). Jonnie West, out (broken foot)

Miami: None


WVU has won 28 of its last 30 games in December and 32 of its last 37 non-Big East games. It has won 23 consecutive home games versus non-conference competition and is 41-2 in the last seven seasons against such. The Mountaineers are 12-3 in Dec. 20 games all-time.

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Coles is 0-7 versus Huggins. All games came while Huggins was the head coach at Cincinnati. Coles has never faced West Virginia in his 13 years at Miami, his alma mater, and 19 years overall. Huggins is 7-2 against Miami, with a seven-game win streak. The Mountaineers are 16-13 against current Mid-American Conference members.

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The only other game in the series was in 1950-51. WVU won 94-59 in Morgantown as center Mark Workman scored a game-high 31 points on 13 of 21 shooting. Fans believing poor free throw shooting is something that has only recently plagued teams, consider this: Miami missed 11 of 24 free throws for 54.2 percent from the line. West Virginia converted 18 of 31, 58.1 percent. No word on if any granny shots were used.

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Known as the "Cradle of Coaches" in football, Miami also has some notable basketball talent, Wally Szczerbiak and five-time NBA champion Ron Harper being the most recent recognizable names. Current Toronto Raptors senior basketball advisor Wayne Embry played at the school in the late 1950s and has been an executive with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks, the lone NBA team to have a Mountaineer on the roster (Joe Alexander). Washington Wizards assistant coach Randy Ayers and former L.A. Laker Ira Newble are also Miami alumni.

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