NCAA Tournament Preview: WVU - Dayton

West Virginia tips a fourth NCAA Tournament in five years with a game against Dayton at 3 p.m. EST today.


The surprisingly athletic and agile Flyers are led by forward Chris Wright (6-8, 226 lbs.) and guard Marcus Johnson (6-3, 196 lbs.). Wright, who played against Truck Bryant in middle school, averages 13 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The sophomore is nearing 50 percent shooting from the field, but won't often step beyond the arc. His game is geared around scoring points in the paint and off offensive rebounds (he has a team-best 86). Wright will turn the ball over, though, and he isn't great` at the foul line. This is a player WVU can intelligently foul to limit some points – though one it must be wary of on the other end, as Wright can block shots. Johnson, the shooting guard, is good for 46.8 percent from the floor and 36.8 from three-point range. His 12.2 points are second to Wright's, and the junior see the most minutes of any Dayton player at 28. He has an even assist-to-turnover ratio, and is most pried for his defense. The Cleveland native is the "shut down" defender for the Flyers, and as such it will be intriguing to see how head coach Brian Gregory wants to match him against WVU's motion sets and solid outside shooting.

Swingman Charles Little (6-6, 247 lbs.) operates entirely from the inside, where he is making half his attempts. He has solid size and excellent bulk, and can drive and attack the basket and take foes off the dribble. He has a 43-inch vertical, and his experience (Little is the lone senior on the team) and athletic ability have led to a team leader role. The Flyers aren't nearly as good without Little on the floor, and getting him in foul trouble early would be beneficial despite his eight-point and four-rebound averages being middle of the pack. Center Kurt Huelsman (6-10, 245 lbs.) is the least proficient starting scorer at 3.6 points, but his four rebounds add to a team that is beating foes on the glass by an average of almost six per game. Huelsman is below average at the foul line, and his defensive ability doesn't match that of Little. Point guard London Warren (6-0, 185 lbs.) hits for four points and three boards with 143 assists and 62 turnovers. He lacks shooting ability – he has taken just three three-pointers this season and averages 36.7 percent from the floor – and is used more for distribution and defensive purposes. Bryant will need to be wary of Warren's quick hands and ability to drive and kick.

Dayton is deep, with Gregory using five other players for more than 10 minutes per game each. Guard Rob Lowery (6-2, 165 lbs.) was the most prolific, averaging 7.5 points before a knee injury in early March sidelined him for the rest of the year. Forward Josh Benson is also out (shoulder), leaving UD with swingman Chris Johnson (6-5, 176 lbs.) and guard Mickey Perry (6-2, 197 lbs.) are the primary reserves. Johnson is a do-everything player who can fit in a variety of roles. The freshman is undersized and needs added time in the weight room, but he shoots effectively and is long enough that he gets to 5.5 boards per game on average, second-most on the team. He's a great sixth man, and has three starts this year. Perry, a Wisconsin transfer, won't threaten from all over the floor – despite his recruiting line being that of a good shooter – and doesn't have the raw talent of Johnson. But the junior is a slasher and will put pressure on and around the rim. He can also kick out for other players or dump the ball off, making him difficult to totally control. Freshman forward Luke Fabrizius (6-9, 205 lbs.) and Devin Searcy (6-10, 226 lbs.) will also see minutes. Fabrizius is much more comfortable outside than in despite his size, and as a first-year player has seen nothing like the pressure of the Mountaineers. Guarding him all over the floor is difficult, though. Searcy, a sophomore, is an inside threat, and is a Cam Thoroughman-type in that he dives for loose balls and is versatile enough to do a series of things that don't show in the box score. This is a scrapper with some size and ability.


The sixth-seeded Mountaineers can't physically overwhelm Dayton, and won't be able to merely show up and win on talent alone. But the Flyers haven't often score in abundance, and they rely too heavily on offensive rebounding for points to be effective against West Virginia. Look for WVU to hit the boards hard and force Dayton away from the basket to eliminate second-chance points. This is the single most important aspect of this game, and one that if done effectively should lead to a win. The Flyers have yet to face a foe with as much defensive intensity and on-ball pressure as they will see this game, and their lack of shooting and need to beat a foe to rebounds should hinder it here. The length and athleticism of head coach Bob Huggins' squad, especially that of Devin Ebanks, will be a match-up issue on both ends, and though this is the best 11 seed, Dayton doesn't have quite enough toughness to take WVU for 40 minutes.
Game Info
Fri. March 20
3 p.m. EST

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
WVU 23-11
Dayton 26-7
Dayton 2-1
Sirius 126
WVU - 21
Dayton - 27

As with every NCAA Tournament game, how it's called could also affect the outcome. Dayton is deeper, but relies on the vast majority of its points to come from inside play. It also doesn't shoot well from the line. West Virginia uses more of a blend of both outside and in, and liks to play physically and try to handle opponents. A tightly called game doesn't necessarily benefit either team, but would most hurt the Mountaineers because of depth and their inability to allow the defense to create the offense. WVU needs to do what it has in most wins: Shoot well, play solid defense, rebound and continually attack. Look for Huggins to try to smother Dayton and put pressure on it all over the floor. There won't be any organized press, but rather perhaps picking up players early across halfcourt and not allowing the Flyers to get comfortable into sets, In Huggins' terms, disrupting what they want to do. If that happens and Ebanks and others move bodies from the hoop, West Virginia should be moving on to the Round of 32.


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

Dayton: Rob Lowery, out (knee – will miss rest of season). Josh Benson, out (shoulder – will miss rest of season).


WVU is making its 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mountaineers are one of five teams to make the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in three of the last four years (Villanova, Memphis, Texas, North Carolina).

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Bob Huggins is 13-1 against Dayton. All games came while Huggins was at Cincinnati. He will make his 17th NCAA Tournament appearance. He is tied for fifth with Texas' Rick Barnes for the most tournament appearances by active head coaches. He is just the second coach in school history to win 20-plus games in his first two seasons.

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The Mountaineers have won 25 of their last 37 games in the month of March and 36 of the last 41 non-Big East games.

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West Virginia is 41-1 under Huggins when shooting a higher percentage than foes. It is 19-0 this year when scoring more than 70 points.

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Dayton went 18-0 at home this year. It was 5-6 in road games and 3-1 in neutral site games. The Flyers are 5-5 in the last 10 games. Head coach Brian Gregory is 124-67 in six seasons at the school.

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