Preview: West Virginia - Villanova

A key two-game set starts tonight with Villanova as West Virginia plays host in a 9 p.m. tip.

SCOUTING THE WILDCATS

The No. 13 ‘Cats utilize a two-guard, three-forward lineup with the most experienced team ever under head coach Jay Wright. Villanova starts three seniors and two juniors and has solid depth that allows Wright to play eight deep. Guard Scottie Reynolds, a Big East Rookie of the Year who started since his initial season, is averaging 15.4 points and three rebounds. The 6-2, 190-pounder can play either guard slot, but isn't shooting as well as his teammates this season, making 40 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range. That's far below the team average of 46 percent this year, among the best marks in the conference. Reynolds is great intangibly, making plays all over the floor that don't always show in the box score. He also distributes well and has an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio. Reggie Redding, 6-5, 205 pounds, hits for seven points and five rebounds and is expected to make his 10th start this season. The Philadelphia native is equally adept at starting or coming off the bench, and the on-again, off-again pattern is one that has stuck through his collegiate career. Redding, who is better around the rim than as a pure jump shooter, will be penciled in as the shooting guard, though Reynolds is the better scorer. The junior won't threaten West Virginia from the outside, but makes superior decisions with the ball and will move throughout offensive sets, making his defense a tiring task.

The three forwards, all upperclassmen, are led by Dante Cunningham (6-8, 230 pounds). The most athletic player on the roster, Cunningham can operate on the perimeter or inside and possesses great leaping ability. His 57 percent shooting from the floor is rivaled only by DeJuan Blair, and though he's not as good as the Pitt sophomore on the offensive glass, he has the better all-around game. Shane Clark (6-7, 205 pounds) and Dwayne Anderson (6-6, 215 pounds) round out the starting lineup. Clark, expected to make his sixth start of the season, finishes well inside, but is a poor free throw shooter and has stretches of uninspired play at times. Anderson, a 45 percent shooter from the floor, is much better from the line, and his added bulk allows him to take contact. The swingman shows great toughness, and his defensive prowess gives Wright options within his setups. Anderson, however, could be limited because of a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise. He is a game-time decision.

The eighth-year VU mentor has among the best benches in the Big East. Wright has eight players with at least one start this season, and the coach can mix and match according to what he believes gives his team the best chance against a given opponent. Corey Fisher (6-1, 200 pounds) and Corey Stokes (6-5, 220 pounds) are the reserve guards. Fisher is a pure point payer out of the Bronx who has made a dozen starts. The sophomore won't light it up from outside, and he is still developing within the college game. He isn't as solid in limiting turnovers and mentally staying in the game for longer periods like Reynolds, but he is great as a backup and certainly serviceable as a starter. Stokes is a better shooter – he has a better percentage from three-point range than from inside – and he is very good attacking the defensive rebounds. Antonio Pena and Shane Clark are the primary backups at forward. Pena (6-8, 235 pounds) is the bulkiest Wildcat and he can score from anywhere in the paint. The sophomore also has a solid jumper and is capable in getting and finishing offensive rebounds. WVU will need to be wary of Pena, and understand ho to move him on the defensive end. Clark (6-7, 205 pounds) is more prolific from outside and shows better rebounding balance on each end. The duo combine for 11.7 points per game.

OUTLOOK

West Virginia lacks the quickness, experience and overall athletic ability of Villanova. But the height match-up is as good as any the Mountaineers will get against the upper echelon of the Big East, and WVU should be able to battle on the boards and get some second chances. Too, scorers Da'Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff – who is beginning to emerge from a prolonged shooting slump – should be able to shoot over their defenders or take them off the dribble for some pull-up chances. The main issue, aside from the raw physical talents of the ‘Cats, is the bench depth. If Truck Bryant gets into foul trouble or has mental lapses during the game, head coach Bob Huggins must shuffle the lineup and move players into positions where they feel less comfortable. That could especially hurt on defense in this game. If Wright faces the same issues with any player, he has the numbers and skill to slide reserves into key slots without losing nearly as much as West Virginia. The Mountaineers must stay out of foul trouble and get intelligent, heady contributions from its starters and initial back-ups. Getting a victory would also likely entail another good shooting night from Ruoff, as ‘Nova is scoring 98.3 points per game on average in its last three outings.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Fri. Feb. 13
9 p.m. EST

WVU Coliseum
Records
WVU 16-8, 5-6
Villanova 20-4, 8-3
Series
Villanova 20-17
TV
ESPN
Sirius 125
RPI
WVU - 15
Villanova - 10

Huggins will find a way to limit the opposition's offense, even though the Wildcats are much like WVU in that they use motion sets and have the ability to get points from a variety of positions. Wright allows his players to create and simply play the game, making the disruption of this offense much more difficult than that of Georgetown, for example. This could be the finest man-to-man exposition of skill yet seen in the Coliseum this year. Both teams have players who can take foes off the dribble and score in a myriad of ways. And Huggins' insistence on defensive toughness and consistency should loom large here. West Virginia will force Villanova to work for its points. But much like Pitt, even limiting the veteran squad for stretches won't be enough to cause them alarm, or get VU away from what it wishes to do. This team won't fold, and it might have too much experience overall and in playing together for WVU to do much about it.

If the game isn't called tightly and the home team can defend the way it wishes to, without having to worry about losing valuable scoring for extended time, the contest has the potential to be close. There is no dominant post player who is going to gobble up all offensive boards and get Villanova multiple chances often. That should allow the Mountaineers more chances on offensive and negate many putbacks or second and third shots for the foe. A rebounding advantage, no foul outs and a decent shooting night are keys. If WVU gets that, and can add a decent game from Bryant, everything else should be in place for a win. It might not be likely, but a Villanova blowout isn't either. It reads here this has the makeup of an excellent game, especially with it being in Morgantown on a Friday night with a 9 p.m. tip.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder – will miss rest of season).

Villanova: Dwayne Anderson, questionable (bone bruise, hyperextended left knee).

FAST BREAKS

This is the 10th ranked opponent West Virginia has played this season and the sixth in the last eight games. The Mountaineers are 15th in RealTimeRPI.com's ratings. Villanova is 10th.

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With a win, WVU head coach Bob Huggins will tie Hugh Durham for 26th place on the all-time NCAA Division I men's basketball wins list with 633 victories. He is the fourth winningest active coach.

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West Virginia is outscoring foes by an average of 20 points at the Coliseum under Huggins. They are 37-0 when outshooting opponents under Huggins.

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Villanova is 5-2 on the road, including 3-2 in the Big East. WVU has won three of the last four meetings, but the Wildcats are heating up, having won six in a row and averaging 98.3 points in their last three games.

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Just one of the last five and two of the last nine series games have been played in Morgantown. WVU is 11-3 against the ‘Cats in Morgantown. Villanova has not won in Morgantown in 10 years.


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