SCOUTING THE SCARLET KNIGHTS
The first of three consecutive away outings for the Mountaineers, the game at RU is a solid chance for a Big East road win and to start the final five games of the regular season well. A loss won't erase the two-game winning streak attained via dominant victories over Villanova and Notre Dame. But it would be a bit of a disappointment, especially with the possibility of finishing with seven straight wins and a resume' too good to even be considered for any seeding below seven. First things first. Rutgers, led by guard Mike Rosario (6-3, 180 lbs.) is just 1-2 in the league and 10-16 overall in among the worst seasons in school history since joining the Big East at the same time as WVU. Rosario, with an average of 17.1 points per game, is the lone scorer in double figures. And the freshman, the Big East Rookie of the Week in early February, isn't an incredible threat from the outside at 31.1 percent. He scores the vast majority of his points inside the arc and at the line, where he is making 87.2 percent. He has 37 assists to 72 turnovers, and with third-year head coach Fred Hill playing him 33 minutes per game, WVU will have opportunities for force the newcomer into errors.
Guards Anthony Farmer (6-1, 190 lbs.) and Earl Pettis (6-5, 225 lbs.) average 9.7 and 4.7 points per game respectively. Farmer, a senior, plays the point. He is a far better shooter than Rosario (45.3 percent to 40.5 percent from the field) and handles the ball with more confidence. His decision making and floor sense are also superior, though he only has decent quickness and ability to penetrate. This isn't a combination that can rip the Mountaineers, but the duo does have some ability and must be respected because of their scoring output. Pettis, the swingman, will get his 16th start of the year. He has played just an average of 16 minutes over the first 25 games, and he isn't a worry from the outside. He can operate some on the interior, and West Virginia must be able to get a body on the sophomore. Pettis, at 2.4 boards per game on average, is a better rebounder than his numbers indicate. Stating forward Hamandy Ndiaye (6-11, 235 lbs.) serves as the de facto center. The junior lacks bulk, however, and shouldn't be able to muscle the Mountaineers off the blocks. He also lacks the raw athleticism to stay with some WVU inside players, but his frame is allowing him to grab 6.2 rebounds per game, and he averages about six points per clip. Far better on the defensive glass, Ndiaye won't take poor shots, and is converting 56 percent because of that.
Much like Rosario, power forward Gregory Echenique (6-9, 260 lbs.) is showing what Hill can bring in in terms of talent. The freshman is scoring almost nine points per game with eight rebounds and has a high ceiling on both ends. He shoots 52.7 percent, though none of his looks are from three-point range, and he has the game to spot up for a jumper or drive the lane as needed. Like Rosario, his assist-to-turnover ratio is very poor, and he will force the action and make mistakes trying to do too much. But his length and ability has led to 64 blocks this season, and he will pose problems for WVU in the paint. The Mountaineers won't be able to force shots inside, and they will have to be intelligent about moving the ball around the rookie to create angles instead of taking it directly at him. Backups J.R. Inman (6-9, 230 lbs.) and Mike Coburn (6-0, 195 lbs.) man the forward and guard slots, respectively, with Hill able to slide some players around them as needed. Inman averages 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds. The senior led the team in scoring and rebounding for the last two years, but has seen his productivity slip because of average shooting and a lack of playmaking in key situations. Inman is an excellent reserve, though, and will give RU a shot of punch off the bench. Coburn, usually a point player, has eight starts this year. His issue is lack of outside shooting, and thus the inability to force teams to guard him deep and open lanes. The sophomore plays fewer than 20 minutes on average, and doesn't do anything particularly well or poorly. He's simply a steady reserve.
This is Rutgers' first home game in two weeks. It's West Virginia's first road contest in three games and the first of a trio of away contests. That might be the only positive for the Knights. WVU is better at every position, and though the RU guards have some raw talent, having two freshmen as go-to players and a lackadaisical bench and routine inside play won't hack it in the Big East. The Mountaineers should be able to outshoot, outrebound and outplay the opponent, and when it does just the first, it hasn't lost under head coach Bob Huggins. Rutgers can shoot it, but if WVU merely plays its normally solid defense and pressures in man, it should negate that skill enough where its superior play in the paint and in the vast majority of other phases overwhelms. This isn't DePaul, but it's not even Cincinnati, either. West Virginia should get this one, and with simple effort and hustle it will barring a major shooting collapse.
|Sun. Feb. 22
3 p.m. EST
Rutgers Athletic Center
WVU 18-8, 7-6
Rutgers 10-16, 1-12
West Virginia 41-26
Big East Network
WVU - 13
Rutgers - 166
Looking at the finishing schedule, RealTimeRPI.com has projected the Mountaineers to win out, putting them at 23-8, 12-6 in the Big East and a sixth place finish. That would be good enough for a six seed or higher depending upon performance in the Big East Tournament. The smart money notes that WVU will lose one of the three on the road if for no other reason than sheer odds. But it might be just as intelligent to bet on a two-game win streak to end it at home with DePaul and a nationally-televised, College GameDay contest with Louisville. This team seems destined for the NCAAs, and this game should be little more than another win to chalk onto the ledger. There are no freebies in the league, but this is as close as it gets outside of the Blue Demons. This midafternoon affair should be a sleeper.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder – will miss rest of season).
West Virginia has more Big East wins at the Rutgers Athletic Center (six) than any other Big East venue outside the WVU Coliseum. The Mountaineers are 13-14 overall at the facility. They have won four of their last five games played in the state of New Jersey.
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Just one of WVU's losses has come to an unranked team. Five of the Mountaineers' six Big East road opponents have been ranked. With a current strength of schedule ranking of four, according to RealTimeRPI.com, this schedule is expected to finish as the most difficult in school history.
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Rutgers is 7-8 at home this year, including 1-5 in Big East games. Head coach Fred Hill, in his third season, is 31-55.
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The WVU-RU series started in 1918. Both schools are former members of the Eastern 8 and Atlantic 10. They have played every year since 1972-73 except for 2005-06. Former rules of Big East play did not allow for all teams to play each other once the league expanded.
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West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is 6-0 against Rutgers. He is 1-0 at WVU, 1-0 at Kansas State and 4-0 at Cincinnati. Hill is 0-2 against the Mountaineers.
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WVU has 1,545 all-time wins. That ranks 24th among all active schools. The Mountaineers passed N.C. State and are nearing Cincinnati and Purdue to overtake 22nd place all-time. Arizona and BYU are also within striking distance in the next few years, though those two schools could prove difficult to pass. Louisville and Texas would be next.