Boston College has been a bit of a puzzlement this year. With five of their top six scorers and three leading rebounders returning from last year's NCAA Tournament team, the Eagles figured to challenge for another Big Dance ticket. Instead, BC has been very inconsistent, with the loss of Uka Agbai and the up and down play of some returning veterans figuring in their early struggles.
All Big East guard Troy Bell is having his expected good season, averaging 23 points and almost four assists per game. The senior star has been nicely complemented by sometime backcourt mate Ryan Sidney (15 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.9 apg).
A few games into the season, Sidney moved to the small forward spot, with his position being taken by freshman Louis Hinnant. While Hinnant hasn't put up big numbers, he has shot 51% from the field and played steadily enough to make the smaller lineup work.
Up front, the loss of Agbai would have crushed many teams, but the emergence of powerful freshman Craig Smith has helped ease the blow. Smith is averaging 21 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and is a cinch to be on the league's all freshman team at the conclusion of the season. Smith leads the conference in field goal shooting, and has carried the Eagles' inside game since the loss of Agbai.
Smith hasn't gotten much help inside, as center Nate Doornekamp averages less than three points per game on 23.8% shooting.
Jermaine Watson and displaced starter Andrew Bryant are the principal subs in head coach All Skinner's seven man rotation. That low number could be a big help to WVU, which has only gone eight deep for most of the season.
These two undersized forwards (both are in the 6-2 range) should provide a classic, if non-traditional, scoring matchup at the small forward spot.
|Sun 1/29 Noon|
WVU 9-5, 1-2
BC 7-6, 0-2
WVU leads 6-5
WVU - 86
BC - 57
|Line: BC -6|
With both players often defending or challenging opponents five or six inches taller than they, the chance to go head to head against an opponent of roughly the same size should have each player looking to get off early on the offensive end. Oftentimes when that happens, the player that is more patient ends up winning the battle, so it will be interesting to see which player contains himself the best in the early going.
Defensively, both players have been subject to a number of post ups and other strategies designed to get the ball to bigger opponents, but this matchup should highlight each player's defensive abilities in the open floor.
Sidney is a rare combination among players - he shows his guard skills by leading the Eagles in assists, but also averages eight rebounds per game. Schifino will have a full day on his hands with Sidney, but if he proves equal to the task, WVU will have a shot at the upset.
BC: Uka Agbai (neck) out
This game looked like a winnable road contest for the Mountaineers until the Eagles jumped up and knocked off North Carolina State on the road on Thursday. Basketball is a game of momentum, and that factor is squarely on the side of the home team in this contest. (WVU seems to be in a tough stretch of playing teams with Uncle Mo on their side - Georgetown apparently used the last of their mojo in their overtime win over West Virginia and have since lost two straight.)
That's not to say this game is unwinnable, but it's going to be a true test of West Virginia's competitive spirit and concentration.
Between the lines, teams are starting to figure out that WVU is a two headed offense of Kevin Pittsnogle and Drew Schifino, with a third player such as Tyrone Sally occasionally providing a bit more offensive punch. The Mountaineers simply must develop another consistent scoring threat, whether it be in the lane or on the perimeter, to disrupt opposing defensive strategies.
Joe Herber must shoot the ball a bit more, and put the ball on the floor to create opportunities. WVU must throw the ball to Chaz Briggs in the post occasionally, where he has gotten excellent position. Tyrone Sally needs to shoot the ball in the lane more, where he showed some tentativeness lately. Josh Yeager must get into the offense and make a contribution. One or more of these things has to happen for the Mountaineers to maintain a competitive level in the conference.
Despite their size disadvantage, WVU has been keeping their hands to themselves well. The Mountaineers have been whistled for 214 fouls this year, as opposed to 252 against their opponents.
Oddly enough, WVU has had two players, Patrick Beilein and Joe Herber, foul out this year, while opponents have no disqualifications according to official Big East stats. (Thanks to our eagle eyed viewers, we've found that stat is wrong.) In any event, both of WVU's DQs came against Duquesne, when the Mountaineers were fouling to try to catch up in the closing minutes.
Only Syracuse, with 187 fouls, has committed fewer infractions than West Virginia this season.
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Prior to this year, Boston College had used the same starting lineup for two years. Head coach Al Skinner used the same five players to start all 32 games in the 2000-2001 season, then began again with a different five that started every contest the following year.
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That consistency is important for Skinner, who rang up a school record 47 wins during that two year stretch.
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BC guard Troy Bell has been fouled an amazing 47 times on three point shots during his 104 game career. He made eight of the attempts, and followed seven of those with a made free throw for a four point play. Overall he is 108-125 on free throws following three point shots. Only once in his career has he missed two of the three tries.
Bell is an outstanding free throw shooter, making 83.5% of his attempts this year. He's also hitting 35.8% of his three point attempts, so he can't be left open behind the arc. However, fouling him at that range is probably even worse than leaving him unguarded.