Tennessee is again led by senior forward Ron Slay, who is called "a sure first round NBA pick", by WVU head coach John Beilein. Slay (6-8, 240) averages 22.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Teaming with Slay on the front line are a pair of youngsters in sophomore Brandon Crump (6-10, 235) and freshman Stanley Asumnu (6-5, 200). With all the attention paid to Slay, Crump and Asumnu often find good room to operate inside.
In the backcourt, sharpshooting senior John Higgins and point guard C. J. Watson team up to give the Vols a solid, if not flashy, backcourt. Higgins can't be left alone on the perimeter, as he is making 46% of his three point shots.
The Volunteer offense is a classic inside out attack. Tennessee looks to get the ball inside to their big and powerful front line. If they get one on one matchups in the lane, they'll gladly take those shots. If opponents double down on them, a kick out pass to Higgins is usually the first option.
West Virginia center Kevin Pittsnogle vs. Tennessee forward Brandon Crump
Pittsnogle has been getting a crash course in the art of interior defensive play, and his biggest exam of the season so far will come against Crump.
WVU 6-1, 0-0
UT 4-1 , 0-0
|Sat 12/21 4:00 PM|
WVU leads 4-2
WVU - 76
UT - 59
|Line: UT -2|
Of course, Pittsnogle will get some help on the interior against Crump, but he has to do his part by denying Crump good position in the lane and along the blocks. Many times, this battle is won as the offensive play begins, so it's a good idea to watch the lane for a few moments while the ball is still out front in the guards' hands. If Pittsnogle can win a few of these battles, then WVU will have a chance to spring another upset.
On the offensive end, Pittsnogle has shown excellent confidence in his abilities, and so far that confidence has been more than justified. He isn't afraid to take his shot in the offense, and is working on developing more post moves to complement his outstanding shooting touch. Although he'll be overmatched in the strength department, Pittsnogle will present Crump with a few challenges of his own on defense.
WVU: Patrick Beilein (Flu) Probable
UT: Justin Albrecht (Foot) Out
West Virginia's 1-3-1 defense will be hard pressed to cover Tennessee's massive front line. The Vols have only one front line player who weighs less than 200 pounds, and as a result UT can lay a style of basketball more suited to the Big 10 than the SEC.
Look for WVU to change defenses often, with the 1-3-1 alternated with a man to man that will feature lots of doubleteaming againts UT's post up game.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that Tennessee is an outstanding 79.1% from the free throw line as a team. Slay and Crump are shootin 87.5% and 90.% respectively, so hacking away at the Tennessee towers isn't a defensive option.
Against the UT defense, the Mountaineers may be able to use the Vols size to their advantage. WVU's cuts and motion could draw Tennessee away from the basket and out of their comfort zone. West Virginia must be able to hit their outside shots, though, in order to have any chance of upending the visitors.
WVU has been able to keep their cool and rally from deficits all year, but they may meet their match in that department against Tennessee. The Volunteers have trailed by at least 12 points three times this year, and have twice rallied for wins, including a 70-69 thriller over Georgia Tech on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
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Tennessee has an incredible 17 players on the roster, including two who are sitting out the season as transfers. Fourteen of the 15 eligible players have seen time in games this year.
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Tennessee Director of Basketball Operations Ed Conroy is the first cousin of noted author Pat Conroy, who has written such books as My Losing Season, The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides.